The Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right is a great victory for the LGBTQI community and for everyone who believes in freedom and equality for all human beings. It is a defeat for the forces of bigotry and ignorance and particularly for people who believe that freedom of religion includes the freedom to discriminate. It does not.
We are indeed making great progress. At the same time it is clear that there is so much more to do. As a result, I’m sure that while many of us have been celebrating, we have also spent a good deal of time assessing where we stand in the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality for all members of the LGBTQI community. Here are some of my thoughts:
I believe that we are at a stage in the struggle for LGBTQI rights that is analogous to where we were at in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. We are seeing progress in terms of increased legal protections for the LGBTQI community, and we are moving toward a society that is more tolerant and perhaps even more accepting of people in the community. However, we are still a long way from a broad-based recognition of full equality—of the recognition that it is just as natural and authentic to be gay as it is to be straight and that it is just as natural and authentic to be transgender as it is to be cisgender. Disturbingly, we are at the very earliest stage in the struggle for transgender rights and equality. For transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, the number one issue is survival. It is dangerous for a transgender woman to walk down the street anywhere in this country or this world. In fact, nine transgender women have been murdered in the US so far this year.
In 2011 the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted a survey of 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming people.
Key findings include the following:
- Forty-one percent of the respondents reported that they had attempted suicide.
- A majority of respondents reported significant family rejection.
- Many respondents reported living in poverty. In fact, survey participants were nearly four times more likely than the general population to have an annual household income of less than $10,000.
- Unemployment for respondents was twice the rate of the general population.
- Respondents reported significant rates of harassment at school and in the workplace. Seventy-eight percent reported being harassed in grades K-12, including abuse by teachers. Ninety percent of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job or hid their gender identity to avoid such treatment.
- Respondents reported various forms of housing discrimination. Nineteen percent reported having been refused a home or apartment, and 11 percent reported being evicted because of their gender identity.
- Nineteen percent reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives because they were transgender or gender non-conforming.
- Fifty-five percent of those trying to access a homeless shelter were harassed by shelter staff or residents; 29 percent were turned away altogether and 22 percent were sexually assaulted by residents or staff.
- Twenty-two percent of respondents who have interacted with police reported harassment by police, with much higher rates reported by people of color.
- Health outcomes for all categories of respondents reflected the effects of social and economic marginalization, including much higher rates of HIV infection, smoking, drug and alcohol use and suicide attempts than the general population.
- Nineteen percent of the respondents reported being refused medical care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status, with even higher numbers among people of color.
In my book, The Human Agenda: Conversations about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (Trans Über, 2015), I spoke with Dr. Carys Massarella, a transgender emergency physician. She told me that many transgender people are hesitant to see doctors for any medical reason because they do not trust that the doctor will be informed or supportive about their gender identity. In fact, she said that “transgender people avoid even going to emergency departments with perceived emergencies because of the way that they’re treated. So even with potentially life-threatening conditions, transgender people are avoiding seeking health care.”
Despite our monumental victory on same-sex marriage, it is clear that we are a long way from equality, particularly for transgender people. I do believe, however, that there are many people with open minds and good hearts who want to learn more and better understand what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex. Despite backlash and setbacks, I believe that with increasing awareness more and more people will embrace equality and celebrate diversity, realizing that we all have the same goals in life and that ultimately we do indeed share a common humanity.
Note: The National Center for Transgender Equality will be conducting a new survey beginning August 19. If you are transgender or gender-nonconforming and would like to participate in the survey, you can sign up here.