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The groundhog survey
by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

At this year's Creating Change conference, a new report came out from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which hosted the confab. The report, titled "Injustice at Every Turn," includes responses from nearly 6,500 people. A press release touts it as, "the first large-scale national study of discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming Americans, and paints a more complete picture than any prior research to date."

What did this study tell us? Among other things, we learned that 41 percent of those who participated has attempted suicide, compared to a mere 16 percent of the general population.

Survey participants were twice as likely to be unemployed when compared to the general population. Half had faced harassment in the workplace, and one in four had their employment terminated due to their gender expression or identity.

One in five had been homeless as a result of their gender identity or expression, with 19 percent being refused a home and 11 percent having been evicted over issues of gender identity or expression.

Police mistreatment was reported by 22 percent of those surveyed, and that 19 percent were refused health care. Also, we learned that poverty was rampant among those surveyed.

It's pretty big stuff â€" but I have to admit, I felt an extreme sense of deja vu as I read this report.

You see, in February 2010, at the Creating Change conference, a report came out from NCTE and the Task Force. The report was based on a preliminary study and included responses from nearly 6,500 people.

It, too, was a groundbreaking study, uncovering just how bad discrimination was for transgender people. It told us that half had faced harassment in the workplace, and one in four had their employment terminated due to their gender expression or identity. It told us about homelessness, and healthcare, and poverty, and â€" yes, just about the same thing as I just got done telling you.

So this year's groundbreaking study is last year's groundbreaking study. Just, you know, with the final numbers. Which also seem to be pretty close to the preliminary numbers.

Now I think it's great that the study is finished and published. It's good, hard data that can be used any time you need good, hard data. It can be reduced to great little sound bites and put on the air the next time someone is attempting to make sure transgender people are included in whatever bills reach our elected bodies. Yet I find it hard to be all that excited about it, given this same data was discussed in 2010 at the Creating Change conference.

More than this, however, I know that I don't much need a survey put on by a pair of organizations to tell me what my eyes see. I know what it is like to face the loss of employment due to one's transgender status. I know what it is like to face harassment in the workplace. I know what it is like to find housing difficult to attain due to one's gender expression or identity.

More than just me, however, I know from the other transgender and gender variant friends and associates I've had over the years that my experiences â€" and other examples of discrimination â€" are typical. We often live in poverty. Health care is a dicey proposition. Suicide attempts are highly common â€" and harassment and violence even more so. You honestly do not need a study to know this.

So here it is, February 2011. This study is done and published, and the findings discussed last year are final. Now that we have this data to back up what we already knew, I find myself with one big question: what are we going to do with it?

Are these numbers just for bandying about at a high-priced convention where those most directly affected by discrimination and harassment are not present, just to be regurgitated endlessly so we know that, gosh, it's really bad out there?

Or perhaps these numbers make good PR, and have now gotten two boosts here at the beginning of the year, allowing for an influx in media coverage and fundraising dollars for the organizations that funded it? Certainly it gives them the ability to say, "we're doing something for you," even if that something is simply number crunching a survey for a year or so.

Rather, I want to see these numbers â€" as well as the long-ingrained community knowledge behind them â€" turn into something useful.

First, let's put to rest any notions that transgender people don't have it bad. We already knew this, here's the numbers to back it up, so enough already.

Let's use these numbers when we fight for inclusion in bills such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The next time transgender and gender-variant people are cut out of ENDA â€" and you know they will be â€" point out that maybe it is those who are already adequately served who should be cut out first, in deference to those most directly affected by employment discrimination.

Let's use the money that would go into surveys and such and turn it instead to helping our community: whether it is funding employment workshops and homeless shelters among the grassroots, or doing whatever it takes to get our protections codified into law at all levels of government.

We don't need to waste our time and money on next year's groundbreaking survey results at Creating Change 2012. Enough discussion: it's action time.

Gwen Smith puts far more weight on deeds, not words. She can be found online at


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