Why Being Visible in Data is So Critical for Transgender People in the U.S.

[Updated 11/15/22: The deadline to take the U.S. Trans Survey has been extended to Monday, December 5, 2022.]

2022 has been defined by a stark increase in coordinated and extreme political attacks on LGBTQ people in the United States. Yet, amid this rise of hostile attitudes, rhetoric, and legislation, there is an alarming lack of research and data collection efforts that explicitly include LGBTQ and intersex (LGBTQI) people.

As a result, there is a limited ability to understand the experiences of LGBTQI people and the impact of rising political attacks on these already vulnerable communities. This is especially relevant for transgender people, given the unprecedented focus of these political attacks on transgender people.

Equitable and inclusive data are incredibly important for LGBTQI equality. More and better data about LGBTQI people helps detail the multitude of experiences related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex. Inclusive data collection also combats stereotypes and misinformation about LGBTQI people.

The groundbreaking U.S. Trans Survey

Groundbreaking surveys—like the U.S. Trans Survey (USTS), which just launched in its third nationwide survey of transgender and nonbinary people—illustrate the importance of data equity and inclusion. Data from the past versions of the U.S. Trans Survey have been critical in advancing understanding of and advocacy for transgender and nonbinary people, particularly given the absence of inclusive data collection in federal surveys like the U.S. Census and American Community Survey.

Why data inclusion matters right now, especially for transgender Americans

Inclusive data helps us improve understanding, promote awareness, and drive acceptance for transgender and nonbinary people, which is currently lacking. Recent findings from the Pew Research Center show that less than half (40%) of adults in the U.S. know someone who is transgender, and only one in five knows a nonbinary person. Accordingly, the acceptance of transgender people remains divided along partisan lines.

Timely, inclusive data also helps illustrate the unequal legal terrain facing transgender people in the United States. Our Equality Maps show how, in some states, a lack of access to health insurance for transgender people — which includes medically necessary gender-affirming care — can force a person to travel across state lines in order to meet their health needs. Knowing even basic data can further illustrate the scope or impact of such policies. For example, inclusive data collection about the size of the transgender population allows us to see that today, more than one in three transgender youth now live in a state that bans them from playing sports with their friends.

Given all of this and the stark increase in anti-trans bills appearing in state legislatures in the past three years alone, transgender people in the United States face a surreal reality every day, one where their rights and the recognition of their very existence are largely dependent on where they live and with whom they interact. Yet trans people remain largely invisible in most data collection efforts that might otherwise help illuminate their experiences and needs.

What the USTS tells us about transgender experiences

The U.S. Trans Survey elevates the voices of transgender and nonbinary people and, among many other insights, explains how they navigate the nation’s inequitable patchwork of laws. Led by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the USTS captures a diverse range of experiences in the United States and is the single largest survey of transgender and nonbinary people to date.

“The U.S. Trans Survey honors the lives and experiences of transgender people in the United States,” said Josie Caballero, NCTE’s Special Projects Director in a press release announcing the USTS. “The more people who take the survey, the better we can understand our entire community.”

Conducted every roughly five years, the USTS offers a comprehensive and contemporary dataset of the experiences of transgender people. The survey includes questions related to employment, education, healthcare, the criminal justice system, and more. Transgender people, including nonbinary individuals and those as young as 16 years old, are eligible to participate.

The USTS is accepting respondents until December 5, 2022. For more, visit ustranssurvey.org.

Looking back at findings from NCTE’s 2015 USTS Report, we can learn a great deal about day-to-day life for transgender people, as well as patterns of discrimination and challenges involving:

  • Identity documents — only 1 in 10 survey respondents reported that all of their identity documents reflect their preferred name and gender marker.
  • Mistreatment in school — the majority of respondents (77%) experienced some form of harassment, discipline, or assault during grades K-12.
  • Employment status — transgender people are three times as likely to be unemployed compared to the general population in the U.S., and over one-quarter (27%) of employed respondents were either fired, not hired, or denied a promotion due to their gender identity or expression.
  • Family life — the lack of supportive family correlates with homelessness, attempted suicide, and psychological distress for transgender people.

Inclusive data is integral to protecting lives

Inclusive data sheds light on the real-life experiences of transgender people, who are navigating an increasingly hostile political climate. The severe uptick in legislation targeting trans youth in particular — which includes exclusion from sports and bans on best-practice medical care — tells us that safeguards for transgender people are actively under threat in the United States.

We know that data drives policy. To make informed and responsible policy decisions, we need consistent and inclusive data that accurately represent and support transgender people in the United States. The USTS is a milestone step in this effort and ultimately has the potential to protect transgender lives, and state and federal government data collection efforts should follow this inclusive model and leadership. As Caballero explains, “the opportunity [the USTS] provides the transgender community to help shape a future in which we can not only survive, but also thrive, is particularly hopeful.”

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