That Equality Report

I promised you a post on the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s new report, How Fair is Britain? Here it is.

As I mentioned on Monday, mostly the report has little to say about the status of trans people in Britain because the EHRC does not have sufficient data to draw any conclusions. This isn’t surprising. The numbers of trans people are very small, they are not a fashionable group of people to study, and even if surveys did ask respondents if they identified as trans many trans people would lie for fear of outing themselves. Nevertheless, there are a number of rather depressing comments.

On Crime

In a small study of the experience of 71 transgender people, over half said that they had experienced harassment, and a smaller proportion (12 people) said that they had been physically assaulted: a large amount of crime against this group appears to go unreported.

A survey of attitudes among 872 transgender people found that two-thirds felt confident that they would be treated appropriately by members of the police service as their acquired gender. However, around 1 in 5 of those who had had contact with the police (68/367) felt that they were treated inappropriately, with attacks against them not being taken seriously and inappropriate searches being carried out.

On Health Care

The ‘Patient Satisfaction with Transgender Services’ which surveyed the opinions and experiences of 647 individuals at all stages of treatment/transition, found that 1 in 7 transgender people who responded to the healthcare section of the satisfaction survey felt that they had been treated adversely by healthcare professionals because of their transgender status.

On Education

In the same survey, transgender students were identified as the group who secondary teachers think are least supported in school (with only 7% of secondary teachers saying that this is the case). Also, only 7% of secondary teachers say that their school is ‘very active’ in promoting equality and respect for transgender pupils.

Despite two-thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender secondary students reporting that they have been victims of often severe bullying (17% of those bullied reported having received death threats), most teachers say that their schools do little to very actively promote respect towards lesbian, gay and transgender young people.

On Employment

Given the size of the transgender population, national survey evidence is unable to shed light on their economic position. However, a small 2008 survey of 71 respondents by the Scottish Transgender Alliance found that among respondents there was a high unemployment rate with 37% (N=26) receiving out of work benefits. There was also a high reported self-employment rate at 20% (N=14) perhaps because some members of the transgender community avoid situations where they do not have control over their work environment and the people with whom they have day-to-day contact.

There is very limited information about the economic position of the transgender population in the labour market, although research suggests that it is not favourable. A small-scale Scottish study (with 71 respondents) found that 55% of transgendered people had an HND/degree or postgraduate degree, but only 30% had a gross annual income of over £20,000, and almost half had a gross annual income of under £10,000.

Although little empirical work has been done in the area of employment for transgender people, it is reported in qualitative research and small-scale survey work that the employment sphere is the space in which transgender people face the most significant and pervasive levels of discrimination.

As a consequence of harassment and bullying 1 in 4 transgender people will feel obliged to change their jobs.

On housing

For transgender people, housing problems or crises can be related to aggression from neighbours and/or others in the local area, or the breakup of families on discovering a member of the family is transgender. These experiences may trigger a housing crisis or lead to homelessness.

I’m not posting this in the hope you folks will feel sorry for me. I know I have been very lucky. I have a home of my own, a decent income, and a wonderfully supportive relationship. But I have been through times when my annual income was in 4 figures (and I was afraid to go to social services for help). I have been through times when suicide seemed like a logical option. It is a bad place to be in, and there are many people in the UK, and around the world, who are in that place now.

Of course there are very many people who are much more seriously disadvantaged because they live in extreme poverty. But this is such a small problem in comparison to their plight. It is a problem that would be largely solved if we, as a society, would just change our attitudes. The economic cost is pitifully small.

So what can we as individuals can do about this? Trans people are such a small and despised minority that they are mostly off the political radar. Writing to your MP won’t help a lot. What we can do, however, is challenge opinions. The main reason why trans people are such a disadvantaged group is that politicians are afraid to do anything to help them. And that’s because when trans people are featured in the media it is generally either as the butt of jokes, or because some journalist is outraged that anything at all is done to support “perverts”. While those media attitudes exist, trans people will always be a political scapegoat rather than a protected group.

So next time you hear or see someone trashing trans people in public, do me a favor and challenge it, please.

You might also read this article by Matt Cheney, which I think is wonderful. If we were less obsessed with gender, and the maintenance of male superiority, we would be a lot less terrified by people who don’t fit our neat social boxes.

Update: For comparison, the National Center for Transgender Equality today issued a report on trans people’s access to health care in the USA. It makes horrific reading. The headline statistic is that 19% of respondents to the survey (of 6450 people) were refused care outright.