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The Double Burden of Being Black and Transgender in America

By Kellee Terrell

October 20, 2011

It's not very often that the media pays attention to transgender issues, let alone transgender people of color. And this is very problematic, given just how much discrimination the black transgender community faces. In February, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality released the findings from their report Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. By surveying 6,500 transgender Americans from across the country, the data confirms what advocates already know -- that the community faces serious discrimination in health care, employment, education and housing.

But when researchers decided to break the data down by race, what they saw in terms of the African-American participants was truly alarming. In almost every category, the black respondents fared worse in terms of the level of discrimination. Here are some of the key findings:

Researchers believe that these statistics are due to the double bias of being black and being trans.

These specific stats prompted the two organizations to join forces with the National Black Justice Coalition to release Injustice at Every Turn: A Look at Black Respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey in hopes of conveying the severe discrimination and poverty that the community faces.

A few weeks ago, The Root, the Washington Post-owned website for African Americans, approached me about writing a piece on Injustice at Every Turn and the black trans data. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to be able to shed more light on an invisible community.

My feature, "Black and Transgender: A Double Burden," opens with Kylar Broadus, a trans man discussing the employment discrimination that he has endured since transitioning 17 years ago:

"Can you imagine what it's like to see people you work with refuse to walk on the same side of the street with you or sit with you at lunch, or to be told that you are unhirable, just because you are a transgender man?" asks Kylar Broadus, an African-American lawyer and board member of the National Black Justice Coalition, a national black LGBT civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.

Broadus, who was born a woman and transitioned into a man 17 years ago, has been passed over for jobs because of his gender identity. "I'm basically unemployable because I can't hide the transgender part of me. Most likely I am not getting hired once employers see that my Social Security card and school transcripts all have a female name," he says. "I am a human being who deserves the right to make a living like everyone else."

Broadus' experiences are not rare. The harsh reality is that whether they possess a J.D. or a GED, members of the African-American transgender community face severe discrimination.

Another crucial transgender voice in the article belongs to Monica Roberts, an award-winning transgender female blogger from Texas:

Monica Roberts, a 49-year-old black transgender activist and founder of the award-winning blog TransGriot, wasn't shocked by Injustice at Every Turn's findings -- they reflect what advocates have been saying for years. "There is this saying that when white America has a cold, black America has a fever. Well, when black America has a fever, black transgender America has pneumonia."

I also call attention to one of the most alarming stats of all -- that almost half of all of the black respondents had attempted suicide once in their life:

[Darlene] Nipper [the deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force] states that the numbers speak volumes about the emotional and mental distress that members of the black trans community endure throughout their lives. "From cradle to the grave, black transgender people are experiencing high levels of abuse and harassment from all over -- their teachers, employers, the prison system, the health care system, you name it," she says. "And there are barely any safe places for them to go to deal with this stress."

Despite the devastating statistics, it's important to recognize that the very existence of such data is a victory of sorts because historically, reaching the transgender community -- especially people of color -- has been incredibly difficult for researchers. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention falls short on specific data on transgender people. And despite acknowledging that this community has the highest HIV risk factors of any group, the CDC lumps transgender people into the same category as men who have sex with men. (In August the CDC stated that it is revising this approach.)

"We go underreported because we live in fear," says Broadus. "I remember first coming out in my community in Missouri, and there were people who came to see me speak who had literally locked themselves in their homes and never really came out because they were terrified of what would happen if they did."

Hopefully, this will be the first in many more articles about the black transgender community that we see in the media.

Read the entire piece here.

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Kellee on Twitter: @kelleent.


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