Transgender Rights and Communities of Color


Americans across the states joyfully celebrated the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges delivered June 26th that legalized same-sex marriage. Although the decision garnered backlash from some conservatives, the decision was hailed as a historic milestone for LGBTQ rights.

However, a sector of the LGBTQ community, mainly LGBTQ people of color, were quick to point to the inequality and violence their community continues to face because of the intersectional nature of their identities. Data from human rights organizations, community groups, and government sources all point to the dire conditions transgender individuals face in the United States today.

Despite equal housing policies forbidding gender and racial discrimination in housing, almost 20% of trans* individuals believe they were denied a home/apartment due to their gender identity, of these 20% most are American Indian (47%) and black (38%).

Transgender individuals experience extremely high levels of violence, including sexual abuse, police brutality, and murder, as well as social and economic inequality. These conditions pose serious consequences for the health of transgender people, their families, and our communities. And as recent violent events center discussions around racism and systemic violence (expressed through police brutality and murder), we must not forget to include the narratives of those most marginalized: trans* women of color.

Violence and Abuse 

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) has reported 14 homicides of LGBTQ people in 2015 so far. Half of those murdered were trans* women of color. Abuse and harassment occurs early on, as over ¾ of trans* individuals report having experienced harassment during k-12 education, including facing violence from teachers.

Transgender individuals also suffer from high levels of interpersonal violence. And as NCAVP notes, much of this violence occurs in public spaces, pointing to the aggressive and violent manner of policing queer and trans* bodies. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey also found that over 50% of trans* individuals reported experiencing some form of harassment or abuse in public settings including government offices or agencies.

Immigrant rights organizations have also called for an end to the mistreatment of trans* immigrants under detainment by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Immigrants under deportation orders are housed in immigrant detention centers through out the country despite the majority of them being asylum seekers escaping gender violence and persecution in their own countries. At any given day, about 75 trans* individuals are held in custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and 90% of them are trans* women. Although abuse and neglect are widespread in the immigrant detention system, trans* individuals are especially vulnerable targets for abuse. They are often misgendered and placed in incorrect facilities, exposing them to violence, rape, and even murder.

Socioeconomic Inequality and Exclusion

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), up to 40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States are transgender. Homelessness further exposes trans* individuals to violence and harassment, including from police. The NCTE reports that 1 in 5 trans* individuals have experienced homelessness and 1 in 10 have been evicted from their homes. Over half of those seeking out homeless shelters reported being harassed by staff or other shelter residents. Despite equal housing policies forbidding gender and racial discrimination in housing, almost 20% of trans* individuals believe they were denied a home/apartment due to their gender identity, of these 20% most are American Indian (47%) and black (38%).

Trans* individuals of color have four times the unemployment rate as the general population and are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty. Workplace discrimination is rampant, with 90% of trans* individuals reporting having experienced harassment or mistreatment because of their gender identity. And even after transitioning, trans* individuals report continued abuse and harassment. Less than half of transitioned individuals have government identification documents that match their true gender identity. Of those who have obtained correct identification, 40% reported being harassed because their identification was perceived as not matching their expressed/perceived gender identity.

 Trans* Health

Health and healthcare are important issues for trans* individuals. Although the Affordable Care Act has increased access for many, healthcare continues to be an important issue for many LGBTQ persons. The lack of appropriate training of medical doctors and providers in understanding and being sensitive to the needs of their transgender patients is an obstacle to care. Almost 20% of trans* individuals have been denied care because of their gender identity and about 50% have reported having to teach their doctors or providers about transgender health needs. Medical service providers have been slow in addressing the needs of trans* individuals, with many healthcare services continuing to be gender segregated.

Trans* individuals have specific needs and health issues such as gender/body dysphoria and healing from traumatic experiences such as sexual assault and abuse. Moreover, trans* individuals have extremely high rates of alcohol and drug abuse, HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and higher rates of suicide attempts than the general population.

Trans* Rights

The intersections of identity that make trans* rights intertwined with other struggles facing communities of color include police violence against blacks, Latinos, and American Indians. Immigrant rights groups continue to call on the Department of Homeland Security to respect the gender identity of immigrants in detention and guarantee the safety of those detained.

Ensuring basic human rights for immigrants also calls for greater acceptance of trans* and non-gender conforming individuals in our families and communities. As the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found, family support can serve as an important buffer against the ill effects of discrimination and harassment experienced. Over half of trans* individuals reported having experienced extreme forms of rejection from their families. These individuals were 51% more likely to attempt suicide and 30% more likely to consume drugs and alcohol compared to those trans* individuals that counted on family support.

As we continue to discuss ongoing racial and gender violence and forge a way forward to greater equality, the needs and voices of those most marginalized must be included. Community and academic work must not neglect the many intersections that place our already vulnerable peoples in even more precarious social, economic, and political positions. As prominent trans* activist Jennicet Gutierrez has stated, “it is time for our issues and struggles to be heard. I stood for what is right,” and as academics of color and activist scholars, we must also stand together and fight for equality and justice.

Melina Juárez is a graduate student in Political Science at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.  


Photo Credit: Ryan W. Payne