Discrimination and Transgender Mental Health: My Response to Aurora’s Story

Barbara Satin

Yesterday, as I heard the story of Aurora Adams, a trans woman dealing with the stresses of being who she really is in a world that ridicules and denigrates her at every turn, I gave thanks to Minnesota Public Radio for having the insight and courage to air this report and spread a glimmer more of attention on my community which is so misunderstood or ignored: Stress, discrimination makes LGBT community more vulnerable to health problems, suicide

Aurora shared with Minnesota Public Radio her struggles with years of depression and anxiety–including a suicide attempt–that continue to take a toll on her mental health. Aurora’s situation is not unique. I know too many trans women, trans men and gender non-conforming individuals – young and old – who can echo her story or relate experiences or treatments that are even worse. Of the over 6,450 transgender respondents to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 41% of respondents reported they had attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.

The difficulty with these individual tales of gender discrimination, distressing as they are, is that policy makers and rule setters demand data to back up their efforts to create change in the way trans people are treated.

Until the publication of “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey” by The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2011, few statistics about the difficult, sometimes overwhelming, challenges faced by trans folk were available to help shape public understanding and policy.

Valuable as this resource is it needs to be supplemented by more research and studies on the variety of challenges that the trans community faces on a daily basis. Health and health care related issues would probably top the list of research priorities but social issues such as violence against trans persons; bullying, safe school environments; appropriateness of social services; employment opportunities and work site policies; needs of at-risk trans people of color – the litany of research opportunities is long – and unfilled.

As a trans woman turning 80, I am concerned about the lack of knowledge by health care professionals, social service agencies, senior care providers and faith communities around the aging needs of trans people (religious denominations are zealous gate keepers to a great number of the senior care facilities across the nation).

Many of the concerns we face are similar to those impacting the cisgender segment of the old population. But among our paramount concerns are our isolation and lack of support systems plus the fear of how, where and by whom we will be treated when we need the care of others.

Also, a majority of old trans people live in poverty – due in large part to the lack of employment opportunities and job security during our working days – thus our access to housing and health care is often limited or jeopardized.

Aurora’s story on Minnesota Public Radio was an important, valuable glimpse into the lives of trans people. But we need more than occasional glimpses, we need appropriate studies and research that will allow for good laws, public policies and rules that will lift the lives of trans people out of the shadows of misunderstanding and allow us to shine as the whole and vibrant people we are.

by Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force