Wednesday November 16, the Massachusetts Senate passed the Transgender Rights Bill. The vote, timed appropriately during Transgender Awareness Week, is an important step towards offering the transgender members of our community equal standing under the law and protection from violence and discrimination. This legislative victory isn’t the result of one week of awareness, though—it is the result of years of hard work by organizations like the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition—and the journey towards full legal and social equality for the transgender community is far from finished.
While the debate over transgender equality is often framed in sensational and misleading ways, at the core of the debate is the right to lead a happy, healthy life. Discrimination based on gender identity or expression prevents our transgender friends, family, and neighbors from enjoying that basic right; and the cost can be high.
In a survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 41% of transgender respondents had attempted suicide. 33% of respondents in Massachusetts reported a past suicide attempt. Among transgender people of color, the numbers continue to climb. 44% of Hispanic respondents, 45% of African American Respondents, and 54% of multi-racial respondents had attempted suicide. Transgender people with lower income and levels of education were also significantly more likely to have attempted suicide.
To put this in perspective: the percentage of people in the general population who had attempted suicide nationally at the time of this survey was only 1.6%.
Being transgender doesn’t make you suicidal; but compounding issues of major life changes, discrimination and the resulting difficulty finding stable housing or employment, and other health inequities takes a toll on many transgender individuals. This is one of the reasons why the Transgender Rights Bill is so important to our community.
This week, community organizations are also addressing the issue directly. Tuesday, the Transgender Suicide Prevention Working Group, in which Fenway staff have been participating since its inception, released a video series on suicide warning signs. The brochures on which the videos were based are available online and have been named to the Best Practices Registry of the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
Also, this weekend, Fenway is co-sponsoring a training for counsellors who would like to work with transgender clients. The workshop will educate behavorial health providers in transgender/genderqueer identity and standards of care.
Hopefully the awareness raised and rights gained this week will spur further progress in transgender equality, care, and mental health.