May 25 2017 10:12 AM

Michigan data show discrimination, medical issues a significant problem

Merissa Kovach, policy strategist for the ACLU, presents the results of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey in Lansing City Hall.
Danielle Chesney/City Pulse

THURSDAY, MAY 25 — Equality Michigan and members of the transgender community gathered at Lansing City Hall yesterday to announce the release of the Michigan-specific data from the largest survey of transgender people ever conducted.


The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, collected the experiences of nearly 28,000 anonymous participants, 900 from Michigan, to reveal trends of discrimination and disparity in the transgender community.


“The survey results were dramatic,” said Merissa Kovach, policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union, “and demonstrate the devastating consequences that discrimination and prejudice have on the transgender community in Michigan.”


According to the survey, nearly one-third of transgender residents live in poverty, compared to 14 percent of the entire U.S. population. The transgender community also faces an unemployment rate of 19 percent, which is over three times the national unemployment rate.


“If you look at the cover of TIME Magazine and if you’re watching ‘Transparent,’ it’s easy to be lulled into that, ‘Yes, it is (better)’,” said Charin Davenport, a transgender woman. “Here we are, still fighting for the same basic rights that we never have. I have not had a full-time position anywhere, despite my credentials, in almost 15 years (…) because I’m transgender.”


According to the survey, 79 percent of transgender students report being verbally harassed, physically or sexually assaulted, prohibited from presenting in accordance to their gender identity or disciplined more harshly than their peers by school officials.


“The moment one becomes a parent, really one wants nothing but health, happiness and safety for their kid,” said Nicole Ellefson, the mother of a transgender child. “In the journey that we’ve been through, there have been times where there hasn’t been health, happiness or safety. It’s very hard to look those numbers in the eye and know that this is not just going to be a teenage thing, it’s going to be a forever thing.”


In terms of transgender adults, 25 percent reported having problems with healthcare insurance. This includes the denial of coverage for gender transition or routine medical care because of being transgender.


“These are not individual problems, these are statewide problems,” said Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan. “This requires a statewide solution. It points out the serious need to have the laws and the policies in place that address discrimination, and mending our state’s civil rights law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”


White said she hopes the release of the Michigan-specific statistics from the survey will provide the concrete evidence Equality Michigan needs to assert that this issue should be of high priority concern.


“Since (I came out), I met a U.S. Navy Veteran, I have a master’s degree in education, I was a journalist in Washington, D.C., and an editor, a market research analyst, a high school English teacher, a college instructor, teacher of the year and I was the woman of the year,” said Davenport. “It all sounds great, but it begs the question: Are things really better?”

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