Black and Transgender: A Double Burden

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


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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.

A State of Despair

One of the most shocking findings was that nearly half of the black respondents reported having attempted suicide at least once in their lives — this rate was higher than that of any other racial group in the survey.

Nipper 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.”

Nipper adds that her organization understood this fear and created a grassroots approach in collecting the data. “We did a lot of outreach across the country. We worked with groups and allies, and we used online surveys and went to the bars and clubs to really reach the transgender community to participate in this survey.”

Now advocates have the data they need to prove to lawmakers that this population needs better protection under the law. “We plan on taking this data and our recommendations and pushing for, among many things, a federal anti-discrimination employment bill,” Nipper says.

So Why All The Hate?

Despite the increase in positive media coverage around LGBT issues — and shows such as Glee, Modern Family and True Blood that raise the national consciousness around what it means to be gay or lesbian — it’s hard to deny that transgender people, especially African Americans, are somewhat left out of that national conversation. (The most visible nonwhite transgender faces are Isis from America’s Next Top Model and editor Janet Mock.)