Saturday, July 07, 2007

Cold Showers and Statistics

I've just finished compiling national and statewide statistics on anti-transgender discrimination and violence for the non-discrimination work that we're doing in Massachusetts. I enjoy the work, intellectually and as an activist. It's also the equivalent of taking an arctic cold shower: sobering and very effective for putting things in perspective.


A study in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted in 2006 of 194 transgender individuals found a 35% unemployment rate, with 59% earning less than $15,300 annually.

Nationwide, the rates of employment discrimination against transgender people are consistently high. A Williams Institute review of six studies conducted in cities and regions on both coasts and the Midwest, showed the following ranges for experiences of discrimination based on gender identity:

13%-56% of transgender people had been fired
13%-47% had been denied employment
22%-31% had been harassed, either verbally or physically, in the workplace


A large number, possibly a majority, of transwomen are likely to have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.


GLSEN's 2005 School Climate Survey, which surveys 1,732 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from all 50 states and Washington DC, reports that, because of bias against their gender identity or expression:
40.7% of students felt unsafe in their own school
45.5% had been verbally harassed
26.1% had been physically harassed
11.8% had been assaulted

Health Care:

Draconian and irrational exclusions from health care coverage are still the norm. It is difficult to attribute transgender health care exclusions to anything other than a mix of transphobia and ignorance. The City of San Francisco, a self-insuring employer, provided coverage for SRS from July 2001 to July 2004, at the cost of an additional $1.70 per month per enrolled individuals. At the end of July 2004, the City had collected an additional $4.3 million while paying out only $156,000 on seven SRS claims.

… more statistics are available, and the situation becomes at once more complicated and clearer when you break things down by race, gender identity, and location. Transwomen of color face severe oppression across the board. The interconnectedness of oppressions both at a specific point in time and across a lifetime becomes clear.


'Kenna said...

I have a problem with those employment, housing, and discrimiation statistics, because they totally ignore trans women who have been successful at assimilating into society. There is no way to capture that data; and hence no way to quantify the extent it distorts your results.

Lena Dahlstrom said...

Living in the SF area, I'd caution against portraying the 2006 study as representative of trans people in the SF Bay Area. While the results are have some degree of validity -- even those doing the survey said it was not "strictly scientific" -- for that particular population the participants were recruited by outreach coordinators -- who are tasked with dealing with the folks who fall between the cracks in society. So it's hardly surprising they found such a high degree of desparate circumstances.

And while we definitely should be trying to help these folks, we also need to recognize they're only part of the story. There's an estimated 19,000 trans people in the city of SF alone (and undoubtedly more in the larger SF Bay Area), so those survey represented a small sliver of the local population -- one that wasn't a statistically valid sample.

I personally know a half dozen trans people in secure, well-paying jobs locally, who transitioned with the support of their companies. I know other trans people who transitioned and faced problems, but ultimately found good jobs.

Sorry to be peevish about this, it's just that I've seen this study becoming a bit of a "woe is us" meme about trans employment problems without folks being aware of the context. It's a bit like making characterizations about SF based solely on the Tenderloin neighborhood.

wannatakethisoutside said...

Thanks for trying to pull together some quantitative stuff. More information always helps.

grvsmth said...

To echo what 'kenna and Lena said, those statistics don't tell you much at all. Here's more about statistics and transgender populations.

grvsmth said...

... and I'll add: please don't continue to repeat these statistics without the proper context. In fact, I suggest not reporting them as percentages at all, but as raw numbers.

Here's the reason: every time you repeat them, it contributes to the fear, uncertainty and doubt. Every middle-class white transgender person that stays in the closet because of that FUD is one less potential ally.

DLevinsohn said...

I agree that there's an unfortunate tendency for people to take statistics like these -- which, disheartening as they are, are concededly based on tiny, non-random, self-selected samples from particular localities, usually San Francisco -- and to extrapolate from them by making generalizations about *all* trans people, nationwide. That isn't what Richard is doing here, but once numbers like this start getting circulated, the process of mischaracterization seems to be inevitable. The San Francisco study itself can be found at, and states the following regarding its methodology:

"The Good Jobs NOW! survey (attached at the end) was distributed to people throughout San Francisco via personal contacts, social service and volunteer organizations, email lists, and TLC’s website. It is not
a random sampling and should not be understood to be scientific in nature. Participants took the survey on their own and answered only those questions they were comfortable to, or interested in, answering.

Participants self-identified as living, working, or looking for work in San Francisco and self-reported all demographic and experiential information.
Organizations which helped to distribute and collect surveys include: the Ark of Refuge, Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center, Female-to-Male International, Forensic AIDS Project, Saint James
Infirmary, Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center, Tom Waddell Health Center, Transgender Resource and Neighborhood Space, United Genders of the Universe, and Walden House."

Jillian Todd Weiss had this to say about the study the other day on her blog, at She discusses, among other things:

"the gaping hole of sample selection - how they found the people included in the survey. In other words, if you were to put all the names of transgender people in the US in a hat and draw out the names of 100 of them at random, you'd get a bunch of people pretty much unconnected to each other. If you looked at their incomes, you'd probably find a wide disparity. But if I were to distribute the survey through the local GLBT center to find 100 transgender people, you'd probably find that this group is less random and more connected by certain characteristics - perhaps, for example, age. It may be that younger people ages 16-24 tend to go to the GLBT center. Younger people 16-24 tend to have lower incomes and higher unemployment. But our comparison figures for the US general population are people of all ages under 65. And that group has people in their 50's at the peak of their income and employment. So we're comparing a group of young transgender people with a group of all-age US residents. It's like comparing the New York Yankees to the Brooklyn Cyclones (a minor league baseball team). In fact, if you look at the San Francisco study, they acknowledge that it was not distributed to transgender people randomly, but rather through personal contacts, social service and volunteer organizations, email lists, and a website. 'It is not a random sampling and should not be understood to be scientific in nature.'

Now, I have no doubt that unemployment and poverty statistics among transgender people are higher than the general population, and that the difference is based on discrimination. But in reading a study, the key is knowing who they're measuring and who is not being measured. When you do a random sample, you can find out how many people don't respond, and get a sense of the demographics you're missing. With a self-selection system, where anyone who wants to can fill out the survey, it is likely that the people choosing to take the time and effort to fill out the survey are people who are interested in the topic (discrimination) and who have extra time on their hands (most of the high income group is at the office and has no time for this nonsense). [I assume Jillian is being facetious here!] So in terms of a strict comparison - 4.5% unemployment rate versus 35% unemployment rate - it's not likely to be very accurate. Nor is there an easy way to get a random sample of transgender people, because many transgender people are not out and there's no way to find them. Does that mean we should ignore these statistics? Absolutely not. In terms of getting a sense of what 194 transgender people in San Fransisco said about their lives - it's a useful snapshot. Those 194 are getting kicked around by the system. Transgender people generally may or may not be getting a fairer shake. But it's clear that a lot of transgender people aren't."

Andrea's right, I think: focus on what the raw numbers say and report them as a snapshot of a tiny sample; the percentages are virtually meaningless.

But it wouldn't surprise me if the numbers in this study end up getting misused in exactly the same way that similarly dire numbers from a similar San Francisco study, back in 1997, have been misused. For example, in an article in the Gay City News in March 2007, found at 604424&rfi=6, Carrie Davis made the statement that "statistics compiled by Nat Smith and Eric Stanley suggest that at least 65 percent of trans-women and 29 percent of trans-men have been incarcerated in the United States."

This was my comment on this statement, made at the time on the mhb message boards:

"I hope this doesn't end up being one of those statements that ends up being widely believed just because it's repeated so often. And it astonishes me how often people just blithely offer statistics that are clearly absurd on their face, and couldn't possibly be true. I just don't see how that helps anyone. And I think it's a good example of how numbers get distorted to serve particular political ends (admirable as those ends may be). I'm not saying deliberately. Perhaps the problem is the degree of innumeracy that seems to afflict so many people.

With the names Ms. Davis mentioned, I was able to find the original study.

It doesn't remotely support the generalized nationwide statements made about it in this article and other recent articles. It doesn't pretend to. Instead, it was 'a study designed to assess HIV risk among Male-To-Female (MTF) and Female-To-Male (FTM) transgendered persons in San Francisco. From July 1, 1997 to December 31, 1997 we conducted an anonymous survey and HIV testing with 392 MTF and 123 FTM transgendered individuals' -- all 'recruited' at 'various street settings, bars, and social gatherings where transgendered persons were known to congregate. Flyers and posters were also placed at critical venues, agencies, clinics, and in the FTM International quarterly newsletter.'

In other words, hardly a representative sample of all trans women in the United States. With equal accuracy (or inaccuracy), I could use this study to make statements like:

At least 27% of trans-women in the United States live in Single Room Occupancy hotels.

At least 80% percent of trans-women in the United States have a history of doing paid sex work.

At least 35% of trans-women in the United States are HIV positive.

And so on, and so on.

Maybe some of these statements are true, or were true 9 years ago, about poor trans women (the median monthly income of those recruited was $744) living in urban areas like San Francisco.

But *all* trans women 'in the United States'?

Why detract from a good article by making statements that are so easily refuted? To me, it leads to people dismissing the rest of what you have to say. You know, 'this is ridiculous, she obviously doesn't know what she's talking about.'"


Chris said...

Hey all -

as the primary author of Good Jobs NOW!, the SF study quoted heavily in the Williams Project report and in your comments, its great to get feedback on our work at the Transgender Law Center. It is, admittedly, puzzling that none of this feedback was sent directly to us (at least to my knowledge), but your points are still well taken.

We were so clear about our methodology for some of the exact reasons you state. And while I do think you're undercounting the degree to which we reached out to fully employed and well employed community members in collecting this data, it is possible that this particular group was undercounted. I have to posit, though, that it is just as likely that this group is fully counted and makes up only a small percentage of the community.

Along those lines, we are beginning to work on a statewide version of Good Jobs NOW in collaboration with advocates, organizations, and service providers statewide. For those of you who live in CA, we welcome your participation.

Also, for those of you who live in the Bay Area and are fully employed and/or know people who are fully employed the SF LGBT Community Center is launching an exciting mentoring program. Right now, the program needs more women to serve as mentors for other women who are beginning a job search or looking to switch careers. Feel free to email me at for information on getting involved.

Finally, TLC is in the early stages of creating a publication about CA success stories in the work place. It will feature stories of people who have successfully overcome gender identity discrimination or employed strategies to prevent it from occurring in the first place. We'll also be featuring the stories of some employers who have successfully helped employees transition on-the-job. Again, we are focusing on CA examples and I encourage any of you to contact me or ask your friends to do so.

Thanks for your interest in our work and I look forward to collaborating with you in the future.

Chris Daley