Transgender Americans: Numbers, rights and backlash

transgendersWASHINGTON: Transgender rights are a hot-button issue in the United States, a pioneer in carving out greater social and cultural acceptance for gender non-conformists despite a bitter conservative backlash and lag in federal laws.

From Olympic sports hero Bruce Jenner turned transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, to the NBA league and rock legend Bruce Springsteen standing up for protections — acceptance is a mainstream liberal rallying cry in a sharply polarized America.

But conservative Republicans and the Trump administration are out of step with Hollywood and a celebrity elite. On Wednesday, Trump said transgender people could not serve in the US military “in any capacity.”

In February he came under a deluge of protest for reversing Obama-era federal protections that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Here are facts and figures about transgender Americans.


Around 0.6 percent of US adults or 1.4 million identify as transgender people, according to the Williams Institute think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles — double an estimate based on data from a decade earlier.

Transgender Americans live in every state, but only 16 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender, according to a poll for LGBTQ support group GLAAD.

Poverty, mental health and discrimination

Transgender people are nearly four times more likely to have an annual household income of less than $10,000 and suffer an unemployment rate twice the rate of the general population, a report by the National LGBTQ Task Force found in 2011.

Transgender people are also at higher risk of suicide.

Forty-one percent of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6 percent of the general population, according to the 2011 survey, with rates rising for those who lost a job, suffered harassment or assault or who lived on low incomes.

Seventy-eight percent of transgender or gender non-conforming students from kindergarten through high school experienced harassment, 35 percent physical assault and 12 percent sexual violence, found a national survey.

It also said 26 percent of respondents lost a job due to being transgender and 20 percent reported being evicted or denied housing for being transgender.


In January 2015, the word “transgender” was spoken in a State of the Union address for the first time.

Barack Obama said the United States would “defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

“We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer,” he said.


But when it comes to federal protections, Congress has been slow to pass laws that clearly protect people against discrimination based on gender identity.

A string of states including California, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada and the District of Columbia offer transgender people varying legal protections. The governors of Kentucky, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania have banned discrimination against transgender state workers.

At least 200 cities and counties have banned gender identity discrimination, including Dallas, New Orleans and New York.

Bathroom backlash

In February, the Trump administration overturned rules requiring public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms matching the gender with which they identify, rather than the one on their birth certificate.

In March, activists got an additional setback when the Supreme Court sent a rights case back to a lower court for reconsideration. A transgender Virginia high school boy was suing to use the boys’ restroom.

Fewer than half of all states currently ban public accommodation discrimination based on gender identity.

Republican-run North Carolina this year repealed much of a restrictive 2016 bathroom law under enormous political pressure and boycotts from the likes of Springsteen, Pearl Jam and the Cirque du Soleil circus.

Celebrity clout

It was considered a seminal moment when Jenner, former Olympic hero and divorced member of the Kardashian clan, came out as Caitlyn in a Vanity Fair cover shot by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz in 2015.

Hilary Swank won an Oscar for best actress in 2000 for her role in “Boys Don’t Cry” which tells the true story of an American trans man.

In 2007 Candis Cayne became the first openly transgender actor to play a recurring role on primetime television, in ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money.”

Laverne Cox is the first trans woman of color with a leading role on a mainstream scripted show, award-winning “Orange is the New Black,” which has run since 2013.