Earlier this year, the LGBTQ+ community was able to celebrate the Supreme Court's landmark decision to rule in favor of marriage equality.
The decision, which was the culmination of decades of litigation and the tiring work of activists, set off jubilation for couples and communities across the country.
Society has also seen a growing acceptance of gay culture.
But as with any progressive movement, headway in the LGBTQ+ community is often made in a series of narrowly focused, small steps.
While we've spent many decades protesting for the right to marry, other important issues to the most marginalized in our communities have been sidelined in the meantime.
This is especially true for issues that greatly affect the transgender population.
Raquel Willis eloquently highlights this sentiment in a piece called, “What Marriage Equality Means When You're Trans,” saying:
Any day now, we could be hearing that our country is finally ready to respect our humanity and our right to love and be recognized beyond gender. It's great, but as I'm a trans woman and activist, my focus has changed [...] I'm regularly worried about adequate health care and doctors who know what's up with my body. I'm lucky now, but there was also a time when I was worried I'd be outed and lose my job. Then I'd be in the spiral of homelessness that consumes much of my community. It's true. Trans folk often have much more urgent things to worry about, like finding restrooms, validating educational spaces, housing and more. As well, I can't help but think about all of the trans women my community has lost this year. It's difficult when the larger queer community, which arguably has more social power and influence, ignores the fact that we can multitask [...] We can be more than a single-issue movement.
November marks the beginning of Transgender Awareness Month, which aims to help raise the visibility of the transgender and gender-nonconforming population.
The movement also seeks to address the unique ways in which this community is disenfranchised, from homelessness to representation in film.
In honor of Transgender Awareness Month, we've compiled a few of the unique challenges faced by the transgender community:
1. Not Being Counted By The US Census
The cover of the June 2014 issue of Time Magazine featured the brilliant actress and prevalent public leader of the trans movement, Laverne Cox.
The stunning cover photo illuminates the important text, “The Transgender Tipping Point: America's Next Civil Rights Frontier.”
Laverne Cox has helped bring mainstream attention to matters the transgender community faces every day.
In what may be her most important battle to date, she has taken on the US Census bureau, asking that it counts transgender people in the next US census.
As it currently stands, the US Census only offers two options for genders when being counted: male and female.
What message are we sending to young people who are trans and gender-nonconforming when we don't even count them? We suggest that their identities don't even matter.
— Laverne Cox
How can equality be prevalent in society if trans people aren't even technically counted in the population?
If we believe in equality, shouldn't the transgender community be part of the US census?
Short answer: Hell yes, they should.
By including transgender people in the census, there will be accurate data that lawmakers can access, which will specifically address the unique challenges the trans community faces.
This would help create policies that would effectively help the community.
Gary Gates, LGBTQ+ demographer at the University of California, came up with the most frequently cited (yet limited) estimations of the United States transgender population, and he has made it a point to encourage survey writers to include the LGBTQ+ population in their research.
Major breakthroughs have been made.
In 2013, the Center For Disease Control's National Health Interview Survey included a section on sexual orientation, making nationally representative data for the lesbian, gay and bisexual community available for the first time.
Data regarding gender identity is still missing from these studies, an occurrence which Gates describes as "demographic malpractice. "
2. The Matter Of Healthcare Inequality
Transgender healthcare is a basic need that non-trans people receive without question every day.
Transgender health treatments are not only safe, but they are also effective and medically necessary for a large number of transgender people.
Sadly, healthcare is still being denied to transgender people, due to prejudice ideologies, as well as misinformation.
A recent survey conducted by the National Center For Transgender Equality and National Gay And Lesbian Task Force points out that 19 percent of trans people lack any form of health insurance, including Medicaid.
The survey also stated that 28 percent have delayed medical care because of discrimination.
Half reported they actually had to explain transgender health issues to their own doctors.
These lapses in proper medical practice have contributed to disproportionately negative health outcomes for trans people, especially when this is compared with the general population's availability to healthcare.
Health insurance issues arise for all people, but the fact of the matter is these problems are much more frequent within the trans community.
3. Housing Biases
Housing discrimination has been a long battle for the LGBTQ+ community.
In many states, even today, it is still legal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
These problems are exacerbated for the transgender community.
According to the National Center For Transgender Equality:
One in five transgender people in the United States has been discriminated when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes, because of their gender identity. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued guidance stating that discrimination against transgender renters or homebuyers based on gender identity or gender stereotypes constitutes sex discrimination and is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Unfortunately, general lack of awareness has contributed to continued discrimination, eviction and homelessness of transgender people in the United States. Strong, explicit legal protection from gender identity discrimination, including at the state and local levels, is still needed.
Paola Ramirez, a transgender woman living in New York, highlights her personal experience with housing discrimination to Kia Gregory, a reporter for Aljazeera.
Ramirez reports she has experienced landlords yelling slurs like “faggot” or “gay boy,” which caused her to move.
Her current landlord told her recently she couldn't renew her lease until she presented identification that stated her female name and listed her as a female.
Getting the documentation her landlord required is no easy task.
In some states, she would be required to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Other states require that transgender people submit a form signed by a medical professional, stating what their gender identity is, in order to obtain a driver's license.
This is something Emmy Award-winning director, Jill Soloway, highlighted in her acceptance speech for her show, “Transparent.”
“Something interesting about my moppa,” Solowa said, using her nickname for her transgender parent.
“She could tomorrow go and try to find an apartment, and in 32 states it would be legal for the landlord to look her in the eye and say, 'We don't rent to trans people.'”
An article written by David Cross of Movoto Real Estate's blog highlights some of the ways in which allies are trying to end LGBTQ+ housing discrimination.
In 2010, the National Association Of Gay And Lesbian Real Estate Professionals led the charge to include protections for colleagues and consumers based off of their sexual orientation.
Two years later, NAGLREP moved to add the words “gender identity,” as well an amendment that passed in 2013.
4. Homelessness And Shelter Inequality
Kerith Conron made a staggering discovery back in 2001 while he was working on LGBTQ+ issues in Boston's health department.
Conron noticed homeless transgender people were sleeping on the streets at night because the homeless shelters were strongly segregated by gender at the time.
Shelter workers, though seemingly well-intentional, were ignorant about transgender issues and didn't know where to place trans people.
In turn, trans people weren't included in the analysis of those who needed shelter in Boston.
Now an official research scientist, Cronin states going uncounted equates to being overlooked, “and if you're overlooked, you're at a greater risk of being underserved.”
But how we count matters, too.
Cronin strongly believe national statistics are crucially important in order to truly understand the number of transgender Americans and their needs.
Data at merely the city or state level is not enough.
When looking at the rates of homelessness in the transgender community, the facts are surprising.
The Transgender Equality site points out that one in five people in the transgender community have experienced homelessness. This remains similar in cases of trans youth.
Often times, they become homeless after being kicked out by parental figures who refuse to accept their gender identity.
5. Limited Representation In Film And Popular Culture
Despite the recent visibility of trans women like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Caitlyn Jenner, representation in television and film is still lacking for the transgender community.
When looking at the statistics regarding the top 100 films of 2014, it becomes evident there is a massive lack of transgender representation in popular films.
An in-depth study done by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication reveals a startling statistic.
While examining the top 100 films of 2014, researchers found that out of the 4,610 characters with speaking roles, zero of the characters were transgender.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Even when transgender characters are included in the plot, many of these characters are erased or played by cisgender actors.
We see this in films such as "Stonewall," "The Danish Girl," "Dallas Buyers Club" and "About Ray."
6. Discrimination Against Transgender Parents
In a proclamation for National Foster Care Month, President Obama wrote:
With so many children waiting for loving homes, it is important to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster or adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
Sadly, society as a whole does not yet recognize the reality that couples should be allowed to raise children, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Trans people who form families after transitioning face challenges to their status as lawful parents.
These claims are often based on attacks that question the legitimacy of their marriages.
This mindset needs to be reversed.
When asked the question, “Do children need certain kinds of gender-specific parenting?” Lambda Legal's response is spot-on:
It doesn't matter what gender your parents are. Research shows the most important influences on a child's happiness and development are the quality of the child's relationship with a parent or parents, the quality of the parents' relationship with each other or other adults and economic factors. Having just one parent or having two of the same gender doesn't leave children any less well-adjusted than having one of either gender. A parent's 'gender conformity' — how well they conform to society's expectations of gender roles — is also irrelevant when evaluating the 'best interests of the child,' the standard courts use to determine custody issues. Studies on gender-nonconforming parents (masculine women or feminine men, for instance) have found that when traditional mom and dad parenting roles are reversed, reshuffled — or even combined in the case of a single parent — there is no adverse effect on the child.
The Williams Institute conducted a study titled “Transgender Parenting: A Review Of Existing Research” which elaborates these points.
7. Mistreatment Of Transgender People In Prison
Cece McDonald drew national attention in June 2012 after accepting a plea bargain of 41 months for second-degree murder.
The incident occurred one year prior, when McDonald was struck in the face with a glass.
In self-defense, she took a pair of scissors out of her purse and stabbed her attacker in the chest.
Her conviction sparked outrage, and it was viewed by many as an act of transphobia and racism against a woman who used self-defense to protect herself.
McDonald, a black trans woman, served a 19-month term in two men's prisons, after the state determined it would make its own determination of McDonald's gender.
Unfortunately, McDonald's story echoes an all-too-familiar narrative for trans people in the criminal justice system.
Her story was part of the inspiration for Laverne Cox's character, Sophia Burset, on the television show, “Orange Is The New Black.”
Throughout the series, Cox struggles with being given the correct amount of estrogen.
In season three, she is thrown into solitary confinement “for her own protection,” after the women in the prison attack her for being a “male” in a women's prison.
Cox said she connects with Sophia's storyline, stating:
What I think is so brilliant about Sophia's story line and that particular moment — and what Jenji Kohan and our writers came up with — is that it shows the truth of the experience that a lot of transgender folks have in prison every single day. Far too often, trans people who are incarcerated are placed in solitary confinement allegedly for 'our protection.' And sometimes trans women are placed in men's prisons, where they put us in solitary confinement, which is cruel and unusual punishment allegedly for our protection. So when the writers came up with this, it's from reality. This is what happens to so many transgender people who are incarcerated every single day
The case of Ashley Diamond is another example of the struggles endured by transgender people who are carelessly tossed into incorrect prison environments.
Up until her arrest, Diamond lived an open, outspoken life as a transgender woman of color. Diamond's life was greatly altered when she entered a Georgia prison for men.
Diamond, who was a first-time inmate, was sent to various high-security lockups.
While serving her sentence, she was raped at least seven times. Diamond was mercilessly mocked by authority figures and labeled as a “he-she thing.”
She was put in solitary confinement for “pretending to be a woman.”
She has undergone drastic physical changes without hormones and has tried to castrate herself. She has also attempted to end her own life several times.
Prison overcrowding is a huge problem for the United States, and every proverbial ball has been dropped when it comes to placing transgender inmates in correct facilities.
8. Suicide Rates Within The Transgender Community
Additionally, 41 percent of trans people reported a suicide attempt, with misgendering as a leading factor.
Help is out there for those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
The image above was created by the Trans Lifeline, a non-profit hotline dedicated to the well-being of transgender people.
Trans Lifeline is staffed fully by transgender people, in order to better understand the specific problems other transgender individuals are facing.
We don't have a trans tipping point yet. We have a trans civil rights problem.
— Jill Soloway
Note from listed author: This article was heavily edited and equally contributed to by the talented writer, Danika McClure.