Survey illustrates challenges for transgender and gender non-conforming Rhode Islanders

The National Center for Transgender Equalityreleased the survey resultson the experiences of transgender respondents living in Rhode Island, and the findings are not good. For instance, though the poverty rate in Rhode Island is 14.3 percent, the survey indicates that among transgender persons the poverty rate is 35 percent.

“The findings reveal disturbing patterns of mistreatment and discrimination and startling disparities between transgender people in the survey and the US population when it comes to the most basic elements of life, such as finding a job, having a place to live, accessing medical care, and enjoying the support of family and community,” write the authors of the 2015 US Transgender Survey executive summary. “Survey respondents also experienced harassment and violence at alarmingly high rates.”

The survey was conducted in 2015, but the Rhode Island specific report was just released.

The survey asked questions about employment, education, housing and homelessness, restroom use, police interactions, identity documents and health. On every metric transgender persons face extra hardships due to their preferred gender identity or expression.

Ethan Huckel, executive director of the TGI Network here in Rhode Island said, “We at TGI Network have been anxiously awaiting the state results of the survey, which illustrate the ongoing challenges faced by transgender and gender variant Rhode Islanders. Despite having a robust non-discrimination policy in Rhode Island, individuals still face discrimination and harassment at alarming rates. Discrimination or a fear of harassment keeps transgender people from having full access to public accommodations, education, healthcare, and employment. The survey results demonstrate that those fears are not unfounded.”

From the survey we learn that 13 percent of respondents “reported losing a job in their lifetime because of their gender identity or expression.” 15 percent report being verbally harassed at work. 23 percent report being fired, denied a promotion or not being hired for an applied for job due to their gender identity or expression.

As the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) grapples with the issue of coming up with statewide policies to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students (see herehere and here), a staggering 69 percent “of those who were out or perceived as transgender at some point between Kindergarten and Grade 12 (K–12) experienced some form of mistreatment, such as being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted because people thought they were transgender.” 55 percent were verbally harassed, 38 percent were physically attacked, and 12 percent were sexually assaulted because of being transgender. A quarter of students faced harassment so severe they left school.

The treatment continues in college or vocational school where 15 percent of respondents reported being verbally, physically, or sexually harassed because of being transgender.

34 percent reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives, six percent in the last year. 32 percent faced housing discrimination such as “being evicted from their home or denied a home or apartment because of being transgender.”

When it comes to public accommodations, like retail stores, hotels, and government offices, respondents reported being denied equal treatment or service, being verbally harassed, or being physically attacked. 25 percent reported at least one type of mistreatment in the past year. Nine percent were denied equal service and 18 percent were verbally harassed because of being transgender.

51 percent of respondents said they “would feel uncomfortable asking the police for help if they needed it.”

On the issue of restrooms, 15 percent reported being denied access to one in the past year. Eight percent reported being verbally harassed and one percent reported being physically attacked. 72 percent reported avoiding the use of public restrooms in the past year because “they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience.” 39 percent reported limiting the amount they ate or drank to avoid the need of a public restroom.

On health care, 26 percent of respondents reported problems with their insurance related to being transgender, “such as being denied coverage for care related to gender transition or being denied coverage for routine care because they were transgender.” When health care was accessed, 24 percent reported negative experiences related to being transgender. “This included being refused treatment, verbally harassed, or physically or sexually assaulted, or having to teach the provider about transgender people in order to get appropriate care.” A third did not see a doctor when they needed to for fear of mistreatment and a third did not seek a doctor when needed because they could not afford to.

Mental health care is another hurdle. 49 percent of respondents experienced serious psychological distress in the month before completing the survey, as compared to five percent of the population of the United States overall. Ten percent of respondents reported that a professional, such as a psychologist, counselor, or religious advisor, tried to stop them from being transgender.

The City of Providence is currently debating the issuance of municipal IDs, and the survey has some interesting observations to bring to the table. Only 16 percent of respondents reported that “all of their IDs had the name and gender they preferred,” while 50 percent reported that “none of their IDs had the name and gender they preferred.”

The cost of changing IDs was one of the main barriers respondents faced. Cost has prevented 37 percent of respondents from changing their legal name and 20 percent have not updated the gender on their IDs.

Worse, “28 percent of respondents who have shown an ID with a name or gender that did not match their gender presentation were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted.”

“Since this survey was conducted, we have seen health insurance access improve and have seen an expansion of the network of knowledgeable medical and behavioral health providers in RI,” said Ethan Huckel. “We are hopeful that these changes will positively impact future survey results. In the meantime, we must work as a community to improve circumstances in our schools, workplaces, and local businesses. We encourage allies to advocate for more inclusive spaces, including more gender neutral bathrooms, and to ask their Human Resource departments what policies are in place to support transgender employees.

“We want to encourage transgender Rhode Islanders to report experiences of discrimination and harassment to the Rhode Island Commission on Human Rights, the ACLU, and GLAD.”

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