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Hunger, depression & unemployment: Trans adults are struggling

Little data exists about transgender people in the U.S. One of the few national surveys that tracks gender identity shows why more information is crucial.

The past two years have been difficult for everyone, but they’ve been particularly rough for transgender households. New data released by the Census Bureau shows that trans adults are reporting startling rates of depression, hunger and unemployment. 

In many cases, the situation has worsened for transgender adults over the past year while improving for other gender groups, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, conducted between June 29 and July 11. The bleak numbers follow months of political infighting over new state laws targeting trans youth, such as those banning trans students from using bathrooms or joining sports teams that align with their gender, and mounting violence against trans adults.  

Here are some of our findings:

  • Seven out of 10 transgender adults are feeling depressed these days — a higher rate than a year ago. By comparison, roughly four out of 10 cisgender men and cisgender women reported symptoms of clinical depression recently, about the same as a year ago.
  • Transgender people experience hunger at twice the rate of cisgender men (19% compared to 9%). And nearly one in three trans adults with children at home doesn’t have enough food to eat — three times the rate of cisgender men living with children. 
  • Three out of 10 transgender adults lost their jobs in the last month or live with someone who did. By comparison, about one in 10 cisgender men reported job loss in their household recently. Transgender adults also reported losing their job at a 50% higher rate than people within the broader LGBTQ community.
  • Everyone is having more trouble with household expenses now than they were a year ago, especially LGBTQ adults: 66% say they’ve struggled to pay their bills in the past week, compared to 59% of other households.

“I’m alarmed,” Gilbert Gonzales, a professor of medicine, health and society at Vanderbilt University, said about the findings. Before the pandemic, he said, transgender people already reported high rates of depression and anxiety, and the data suggests that the situation is worsening. 

“News and public debates about access to healthcare and sports and bathrooms are really harming the transgender community,” said Gonzales, who researches the impact of public policies on health outcomes among LGBTQ groups.

And despite expanded job protections for LGBTQ workers under federal law, the rate of transgender people who reported losing their job recently is striking, he added.

In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that gay and transgender employees are protected from workplace discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. That decision has led to multiple lawsuits in federal courts across the country.

In June, Erin Taylor filed a lawsuit against a Chick-fil-A restaurant near Atlanta where she says she was training for the position of director of operations. She said co-workers repeatedly bullied and harassed her after she told a supervisor that she’s a transgender woman, according to the complaint. They repeatedly misgendered Taylor and made transphobic comments, according to the lawsuit, which Taylor filed using her legal name. In November, less than three months into the job, Taylor was fired. 

Her boss said Taylor was fired because she left work early without permission and for being tardy to work, according to the complaint. Taylor disputes these defenses in her complaint, saying that she had permission to leave because she was dealing with harassment and that other non-LGBTQ employees were late to work without being terminated. Her firing was retaliation for complaining about how she was treated, she alleges.

Chick-fil-A did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit. A lawyer for IJE Hospitality, which oversees the franchise in Decatur, Georgia, told The Washington Post that the company has “vigorous policies and procedures to prohibit harassment, discrimination and retaliation” and that the company is committed to maintaining a welcoming and inclusive workplace. It added that it will defend itself against the lawsuit.

Gonzales, of Vanderbilt University, said that advocacy groups and the U.S. Department of Labor need to raise awareness among employers about the new anti-discrimination protections for transgender workers under federal law.

“We know that trans folks are not getting hired or offered promotions because of their gender identity,” he said. “Some are still getting fired.”

But workplace protections are not enough to help transgender adults find financial security, he said. Gonzales pointed to the Equality Act, which would also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, education and bank lending. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February 2021 but has languished in the Senate.

Gonzales said transgender adults also have trouble finding healthcare providers who understand their needs. Training physicians and psychiatrists to serve gender-diverse patients could help them get the proper treatment for anxiety and depression, he said.

A major barrier to serving transgender adults is the lack of data available to researchers like him.

The Household Pulse Survey, which the Census Bureau launched at the start of the pandemic to measure the financial and psychological stability of U.S. households, only began asking people questions about their gender identity in July 2021.

The decennial census still doesn’t include questions about a person’s gender identity, and the 2020 census was the first to ask whether a person has a same-sex partner.

“We still have big data gaps,” Gonzales said.

Thanks for reading TucsonSentinel.com. Tell your friends to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.

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A major barrier to serving transgender adults is the lack of data available to researchers.