A new University of Los Angeles (UCLA) analysis of data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found discrimination leads transgender individuals to contemplate and attempt suicide at high rates.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey by the National Center of Transgender Equality included responses from 27,715 transgender people from all 50 states, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. military bases overseas. It is the largest survey of transgender adults in the U.S. UCLA’s analysis found that of the respondents who experienced discrimination based on their identities in the past year, many also reported either contemplating or attempting suicide in that year.
The four types of anti-transgender discrimination and violence the survey covered were job loss, eviction, homelessness and physical attack.
Over half (51.2%) of respondents who said they experienced these forms of oppression based on their genders reported attempting suicide in that year. Nearly all (97.7%) who reported discrimination and violence against them reported seriously contemplating suicide.
Those who experienced these four types of discrimination and violence based on their transgender identities were ten times more likely to have reported suicide attempts than those who had not, suggesting discrimination and violence — not the individual’s gender identity itself — is what causes mental illness and suicidal intent in transgender people.
Transgender people who reported being denied equal treatment because of their identities were over twice as likely to report suicide attempts in the past year than those who did not report discrimination (13.4% vs. 6.3%).
Other risk factors include family rejection, violence and lack of access to gender-affirming medical care. Family rejection makes victims twice as likely to attempt suicide (10.5% vs. 5.1%). Over 30% of those physically attacked in a public place of accommodation reported attempting suicide that year, compared to 7% of those who did not report being attacked. Those who reported receiving the gender-affirming surgical care were less likely to report attempting suicide that year (8.5%) than those who had sought it out but not received it (51%).
This analysis comes as the Supreme Court has agreed to take on three cases involving the rulings of three cases involving discrimination against gay and transgender employees. Though lower courts made inconsistent rulings, the Supreme Court rulings will set the precedent for similar discrimination cases.
The question at hand is whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, applies to gender identity and sexual orientation.
The Department of Justice issued a Supreme Court brief asking the Justices to rule against Title VII applying to transgender and gay individuals.
However, the American Medical Association Litigation Center along with 13 other organizations filed a joint amicus brief to the Supreme Court imploring them to do the opposite. The brief said mistreatment and lack of affirmation of transgender individuals directly affects their health.
From a medical standpoint, the AMA’s argument in congruent with the findings of UCLA’s analysis. The AMA asserts being transgender is not a defect and that it “implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities.”
The brief calls attention to employment discrimination that makes it impossible for transgender people to live consistent with their identities leads to real physical and mental illness.
“Over time, the chronic and persistent stress resulting from living with stigma can lead to hypertension, diabetes, anxiety, depression, suicidality, substance abuse, acquiring HIV, and even death,” the brief says. “These health issues are the direct result of stigma and not the product of any inherent psychological impairments.”