Report Details Transgender People’s Economic Struggles

The estimated 700,000 transgender people in the U.S. experience disproportionately high rates of poverty compared with the general population and others within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population, according to a new report by transgender advocacy groups.

Their financial difficulties are linked to isolation that results from discrimination in the workplace, in the health care industry and in educational settings. Financial insecurity also was attributed to a lack of legal protections, according to the report, sponsored by eight public policy and transgender organizations including the Transgender Law Center, the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project.

“Transgender people face extreme discrimination in virtually all areas of life — when looking for housing, trying to find decent and affordable health care and health insurance, opening lines of credit and obtaining accurate identity documents,” the report stated.

Transgender people in Sonoma County face the same issues, said Jacqueline Nugent, a counselor for Positive Images, a nonprofit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support group based in Santa Rosa.

Nugent runs three transgender counseling groups for Positive Images — one for parents of transgender people, one for male-to-female transgender people and one for transgender youths and people questioning their gender.

She said she’s seen an increase in the number of people seeking support and advice in her groups, which she’s run in Sonoma County for five years. From her perspective, more people are seeking services because of new cultural acceptance. Transgender people are increasingly visible in public and are being represented in the news and on TV, she said.

“I’ve seen a huge uptick,” said Nugent, 65, who is a transgender woman. “Trans people are out in the culture now, being normalized, much more than when I was growing up.”

Documenting challenges among transgender people, beyond anecdotally, can be difficult because few state or national surveys include questions about gender identity, transgender advocates said. However, advocates said increasingly, people are asking for gender-appropriate space to respond on questionnaires.

Nugent said the issue has come up in her support groups, in addition to other health and safety concerns. Five years ago, just two or three people would attend weekly peer counseling meetings. Compare that with today, and the same group has between 15 and 20 people showing up. Between 50 and 120 people attend her other groups.

Nugent said she fields questions and addresses problems with transgender people facing barriers to adequate health care, people who are on the verge of homelessness and many who face harassment at work.

“There is a lot of discrimination when people are transitioning, and it’s really hard,” Nugent said. “That leads to social anxiety and being afraid to go out in public.”