Black and Transgender: A Double Burden

A recent report confirms that they face extreme discrimination and poverty.

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"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, according to the recent study Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (pdf). The survey, the first of its kind, was a collaboration between the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Black Justice Coalition. It collected data from more than 6,500 transgender Americans and found that all transgender people face severe bias ranging from housing and health care to education and employment.

But when researchers took a deeper look at the discrimination that the black respondents faced (pdf) -- all 381 of them -- the data jumped out at them. "What was really poignant were these stark differences. In every case, black respondents fared worse than the nonblack respondents in the national survey," says Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "This is because black transgender people face anti-transgender bias coupled with structural and institutionalized racism."

The Greater Challenge of Being Black and Trans

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."

The employment-discrimination data alone support Roberts' train of thought. Overall, black unemployment is at an all-time high at 16.7 percent, but 26 percent of black transgender people are unemployed -- that's three times the rate of the general public and twice that of the rest of the transgender community. And while a crippling economy is a serious factor behind the statistics, it's important to note that current laws -- in 35 states it's perfectly legal to fire or not hire someone because he or she is transgender -- exacerbate these unemployment numbers.

Thirty-two percent of black transgender respondents have lost a job because of bias; 48 percent were not hired because of bias; 34 percent were living in extreme poverty, reporting a household income of less than $10,000 a year; and almost 50 percent admitted to selling drugs or performing sex work in order to earn money to survive.

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Unfortunately, these disparities don't stop at employment. The report also found that 20 percent of black respondents are HIV positive (the general black population's HIV prevalence rate is 2.4 percent); 21 percent of those who were attending school as transgender people had to leave because the harassment was so severe; 41 percent have been homeless in the past (five times the rate of the general U.S. population); 29 percent of those who had been in jail or prison reported being physically assaulted, and 32 percent reported being sexually assaulted; and 34 percent reported not seeking medical attention when injured or sick for fear of being discriminated against in health care settings.

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