Editor’s note: This post coincides with LGBT Health Awareness Week, March 23-29, 2014. It was written by Eric Samuels, a member of the APAGS Committee on LGBT Concerns and Chair-Elect of the California Psychological Association of Graduate Students. A previous post on LGBTQ students in college sports appeared on Monday.
There are approximately 900,000 people in the United States who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming (“TGNC”). Unfortunately, a 2011 UCLA study found that many people who identify as TGNC experience a great deal of stigma and discrimination.
- While in school, 78% of TGNC students experienced harassment, 35% experienced physical assault, and 12% experienced domestic violence.
- In adulthood, people who are TGNC had double the unemployment rate of the general population, 90% experienced harassment at work, 47% were fired, not hired, or not promoted, and 16% felt compelled to work in “underground economy jobs” such as sex trade and selling drugs to make a living.
- Furthermore, 53% had been harassed in public and 19% were refused medical care.
People who identify as TGNC also experience discrimination in one of the most intimate settings – the bathroom. A 2002 study found that 50% of the TGNC respondents had been harassed or assaulted in public restrooms. Furthermore, people who use a restroom that does not correspond with their “legal” sex designation may be arrested or labeled as a “sex offender” if caught. Restrooms are places that represent privacy, vulnerability, and a fundamental human need. Unfortunately, people who are TGNC often avoid using public bathrooms, which can lead to health conditions such as urinary tract infections and kidney problems.
Given the statistics, figuring out how to help may feel like a daunting task. As graduate students who are committed to social justice and multiculturalism, one of the most important issues that we can advocate for at our colleges and universities is to make single-stall restroom spaces safe for people who identify as TGNC.
As a student at The Wright Institute (a Clinical Psychology Psy.D. program in Berkeley, California), this is exactly what I did. Along with four other students in what became the Coalition for All Gender Restrooms, we worked for over a year to change the signs on our single-stall restrooms from saying “Women” and “Gender Neutral” to “All Gender Restroom.” This effort included meetings with administrators, surveying all Wright Institute community members on their thoughts about changing the signs, facilitating two community forums about transgender inequality (especially in regards to restroom access), and soliciting more feedback about our proposal.
Ultimately, our group was successful in changing some of the single-stall restroom signs to read “All Gender” and making The Wright Institute more welcoming for students who identify as TGNC.
In thinking about transgender health issues, I would encourage each of you to work to make similar changes at your schools and clinical training sites. Need some feedback or help getting started? Feel free to email me or comment on this blog post. Other groups working on this issue include the National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, Transgender Law Center, Sylvia Rivera Law Project here, and Lambda Legal.