Transgender Awareness Week (TAW) is a series of statewide events and educational opportunities to inform people about the trans community and raise awareness of issues facing trans and gender noncomforming people in Massachusetts.
Transgender is an umbrella term for a diverse group of people whose gender identity or expression differs from societal expectations of how they should look, act, or identify based on the sex they were assigned at birth—such as male-to-female (MTF) and female-to-male (FTM) trans people, genderqueer individuals, and many others. Gender identity—a person’s innate identification as a man, woman, or something else, which may or may not correspond to the person’s external body or the sex listed on their birth certificate—is separate from sexual orientation. So while it’s possible to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (or straight, asexual, or poly…) and be trans, they are not the same thing.
Although we often talk about the LGBT community as a whole, the transgender community—the T in LGBT—faces unique challenges in public understanding and acceptance, discrimination and legal protections, and health disparities stemming from all of the above.
For instance, 23 states and the District of Columbia ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; but only 16 of those states and D.C. protect their residents from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Job insecurity created by employment discrimination can lead to low income, inadequate housing, and sporadic health care.
When surveyed, trans-identified people report serious hurdles to accessing care:
- 19% report having no health insurance, compared to 15% of the general population.
- Transgender people of color are even more unlikely to be completely uninsured: 31% of black transgender respondents report having no insurance of any kind.
- 41% of transgender people reported postponing medical care when sick or injured because of an inability to pay; but that was not the only reason trans folk don’t seek care when they need it:
- 28% postponed care because they feared being met with anti-trans bias in the healthcare setting.
In another survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a quarter of the trans people they spoke to had been harassed or disrespected in hospitals or doctor’s offices. 2% had also been physically assaulted in a healthcare setting. The number of transgender people who report being denied care because of their gender identity or expression is also unacceptably high (22% among MTF and 19% among FTM respondents).
It is no surprise, then, that there are significant health disparities faced by the transgender community:
- 62% of transgender people have experienced depression and 41% admit to attempting suicide at some point in their lives;
- 30% report smoking daily, compared to 20.6% of U.S. adults;
- 26% report using drugs or alcohol, currently or in the past, to cope with discrimination;
- The rate of HIV infection in the trans community is 2.6%, compared to only 0.6% among the general population. Among black transgender people, the rate is an astounding 4.4%.
Despite the stark and serious nature of these disparities, recent progress on transgender rights and care should give us hope and spur us to greater action:
- In September of 2011, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) released new standards of care that better reflect the diverse needs of transgender individuals and the need to provide them with more holistic care.
- This summer in Massachusetts, the Transgender Equal Rights Bill took effect, barring discrimination in employment, housing, education, and lending, and enabling hate crime charges in attacks that target someone for being transgender.
- In August, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that provisions in the Affordable Care banning sex-based discrimination would protect transgender Americans.
Still, there is much more progress to be made, and Transgender Awareness Week is an important way to draw attention to these important issues. Here’s how you can participate:
- Attend a Transgender Awareness Week event!
The Massachusetts Transgender Political coalition has list of TAW events on their website, including two events at Fenway Health: an event celebrating trans-masculine sexualities and the debut of our contribution to the I Am: Trans People Speak video series.
- Join the conversation on social media.
Let your social networks know that you support the transgender community. Tag Transgender Awareness Week tweets with #TAW12. In addition to this blog post, you can also share our TAW infographics on Facebook and Tumblr to educate your friends and family on the importance of this week.
- Keep educating yourself.
Education is an important step to being a better trans ally. Check out our Gender Glossary for a primer on terms and concepts you may encounter in the trans community. Visit the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition’s website to learn more about the issues currently facing the trans community and how you can help.
- Trans people: embrace self-care as a form of advocacy.
If you are trans-identified, one of the best things you can do for your community and cause is to take care of yourself. You deserve to be happy and healthy as much as anyone else. Our Transgender Health Program has information on health care for the trans community at Fenway and a list of community resources to get you started.