Judgment, harassment, discrimination, and violence are all battles they don’t pick, but transgender men and women still they find themselves right there on the front lines fighting them every day.
For black trans women and trans women of color, living is about staying in survival mode. Discrimination touches on just about every area of their lives, from where they live, where they work to how they are treated by law enforcement, health care centers, intimate partners, and people they interact with inside and outside of the LGBTQ+ community.
Of the 6,456 completed questionnaires that went out to transgender and gender nonconforming populations for the National Transgender Survey, 381 respondents who answered identified as black or black multiracial. Their answers revealed they experience institutionalized discrimination on a larger scale than non-black transgender people.
Part of the report’s title is “Injustice at Every Turn,” and the statistics quoted in the report suggest there are challenges that complicate matters for black transgender people in the US.
“Discrimination was pervasive for all respondents who took the survey,” the survey’s authors wrote in the reports introduction, “yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent structural and individual racism was especially devastating for black transgender people and people of color.”
Some findings from that report, which asked about income, education, and employment, and healthcare include the following:
- “Black transgender people live in extreme poverty with 34 percent [of respondents] reporting a household income of less than $10,000/year. This is more than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15%), four times the general Black population rate (9%), and over eight times the general US population rate (4%).”
- “Black transgender people had an extremely high unemployment rate at 26 percent, two times the rate of the overall transgender sample and four times the rate of the general population.”
- “An alarming 41 percent of Black respondents said they had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, [more than] five times the rate of the general US population. Of those who had experienced homelessness, many tried to access shelters, but were either denied access altogether (40%) or experienced harassment (61%), physical assault (32%), or sexual assault (31%) at the shelter.”
- “Black transgender people reported various forms of direct housing discrimination–38 percent reported having been refused a home or apartment due to bias and 31 percent reported being evicted due to bias.”
- “Health outcomes for Black respondents show the appalling 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.”
- “Nearly 41 percent of the survey’s Black respondents reported having attempted suicide and more than one-fifth of them reported being HIV-positive (20.23 percent); an additional 10 percent reported that they did not know their status.”
While there is a shortage of data to show how these outcomes have affected substance abuse rates among the black trans women and trans women of color communities, these stresses could contribute to the high substance abuse and addiction rates facing the trans community at large.
“Trans-women of color face a disproportionate amount of health and social disparities, especially African-Americans,” said Nevaeh Anderson, a facilitator of the TransAction and Sisters in the Spirit, support groups for transgender women of color It Takes a Village, in Aurora, Colo., said in an article for LifeLines.
“We really have to fight for survival. We’re more likely to be unemployed or underemployed due to being transsexual and the color of our skin. We are also more susceptible to drug abuse, HIV, hate crimes and even being victims of murder. As trans women of color, we’re in survival mode every day,” she said.
CDC: Black Trans Women More Likely to Have HIV
With the odds working against them to find traditional employment and a place to live, some transgender women join the sex industry so they can earn income to pay their bills. Easy access to drugs in that environment can also lead to addiction.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Black/African American transgender women are more likely to have HIV than transgender women of other races/ethnicities.”
The CDC said results from a systematic review of 29 studies showed, “Black/African American transgender women were most likely to test HIV positive, compared to those of other races/ethnicities: 56% of Black/African American transgender women had positive HIV test results compared to 17% of white or 16% of Hispanic/Latina transgender women.”
The agency mentions the exchange of sex for drugs or money as one possible factor for why there is a high risk of HIV infection among people in the transgender community. So in these exchanges, substance abuse rates could be higher than average in the transgender community as drugs are used as currency to pay for sexual favors. People can also take drugs to numb themselves during these exchanges, and repeated use can lead to abuse and addiction.
“Other factors that contribute to high rates of HIV among transgender people include drug and alcohol abuse, mental health disorders, incarceration, homelessness, unemployment, lack of familial support, violence, stigma, discrimination, limited healthcare access, and negative healthcare encounters,” the CDC said in its review.
Trans Women of Color Targeted for Violence
Black trans women and trans women of color are more likely to be targeted and end up victims of fatal violence, data show. And in many cases, they died by the hands of someone they knew.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs says in its 2015 report that transgender survivors were twice as likely to know the perpetrator of violence against them compared to those who did not identify as transgender.
The year 2015 was an important one for raising awareness of violence in the transgender community and against trans women of color. That year, there were more reported transgender homicide victims than any previous years on record, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Nearly all of the 21 deaths that took place in the first 10 months of 2015 in the US involved transgender women of color.
For Tracy, a Black trans woman in Chicago who spoke with writer Don Terry for his article for
the Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine (which also was posted on the Medium.com site in 2015), the news of slain Black trans women does not surprise her. She steps out of her door daily with the realization that she might not make it home again.
“Killing us is nothing new. It’s like being a policeman,” she said to Terry about the murders of transgender women. “When you go to work, you know you might get shot. It’s just something that comes with the territory.”
Tracy also reflected on intimate-partner violence and the dark turn relationships can take for some trans women.
“A lot of these girls who have been killed, it’s by men they have relationships with,” she said. “I tell girls all the time, if a man is not secure in who he is and open about who he is, his secret is more important to him than your life. He can kill you and move on to the next girl. Guys have told me, ‘If a woman puts me out there, I’ll kill her.’ We’re disposable to them.”
It is still unknown exactly how many people in the US population identify as transgender. Not much data has been collected to determine the size of this group, which makes it difficult to serve them and have the government funding to address their names.
According to the Washington Post article titled, “8 critical facts about the state of transgender America,” an estimate of the transgender population in the US is 700,000, or about 0.3 percent of adults. “The figure comes from two surveys. One was conducted in Massachusetts in 2007 and 2009; the other in California in 2003,” the Washington Post writes.
Stress Linked to High Rates of Substance Use
The Center for American Progress’ 2012 study offers insight into substance abuse in the LGBTQ+ community. According to its data, an estimated “20 percent to 30 percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population.”
Other substance abuse trends highlighted include:
- Gay and transgender people smoke tobacco up to 200 percent more than their heterosexual and non-transgender peers.
Twenty-five percent of gay and transgender people abuse alcohol, compared to 5 to 10 percent of the general population.
- The report cites stress as the main reason for high rates of substance use in the LGBTQ+ community.
“The stress that comes from daily battles with discrimination and stigma is a principle driver of these higher rates of substance use, as gay and transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol, and other substances as a way to cope with these challenges. And a lack of culturally competent health care services also fuels high substance-use rates among gay and transgender people.”
Despite the growing visibility of the LGBTQ+ community and awareness of the challenges they face, the transgender community often finds its needs unmet and its health issues largely ignored, even in drug recovery efforts, something observers say needs to change.
In its report, the Center for American Progress urges better healthcare for LGBTQ+ among its recommendations.
“In order to lower these [high substance abuse] rates, our healthcare system needs to better meet the needs of gay and transgender people, and our government needs to advance public policies that promote equality for this population.”
Advocates and organizations have called for improved addiction recovery treatment for transgender people that focuses on needs unique to their community. That includes connecting them with the right places where they feel comfortable and trained healthcare professionals who understand who they are, what their needs are, the reasons for their addictions, and how to best address them.
Ensuring they get the appropriate services will help them fight their battle with addiction and give them the tools and the strength to continue the fight against inequality in other areas of their lives.
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