By Susannah Mitchell
This year, 2015, has been an extremely important year in terms of transgender (trans) history. The stories of transgender people have been featured on television and in movie theaters, a high-profile celebrity announced her transition and President Barack Obama is the first president to ever use the word “transgender” in a State of the Union address. But despite the breakthroughs that have come in 2015 alone, there is still progress to be made.
It is estimated that roughly .3 percent of Americans are transgender. That’s about 700,000 individuals. The United States Census Bureau does not ask participants about their gender identity, which makes it difficult to have a concrete number when it comes to the trans population in the United States. With the current estimates, however, it could be assumed that somewhere around 21,400 transgender people are living in the Chicago Metropolitan Area.
E.A. Francis is one of them. Francis, who uses the pronouns “they” and “them,” grew up and currently resides in the South Suburbs. They were raised as a woman but, growing up, hated the constraints that came with being socialized that way.
“I understood that I hated how I felt when I tried to be feminine,” Francis said. “Special events made me uncomfortable because of the expectations of the outfits.”
Francis wasn’t aware of what it meant to be transgender until high school, when they first heard of the term. They had been raised in a Catholic environment where gender identity wasn’t really discussed, and since coming out as trans several years ago, Francis has had to educate their family about what it means to be trans.
“It has been a several year process to [educate]and demand respect from family,” Francis said. “I am accepting of my changes and am finally on testosterone. It can be an intimidating process to realize that I was socialized as a woman but am not a woman, [so]I now must learn certain social standards of being masculine.”
Along with adjusting to different social expectations in relation to gender, trans people also face many different kinds of obstacles living in the U.S. The unemployment, harassment and assault rates for transgender people are extremely high.
In a survey done by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 13 percent of transgendered people surveyed were unemployed, which was double the national average at the time the survey was taken. This number is event higher for transgender people of color, of which 26 percent who are unemployed are black, 18 percent are Latino, and 17 percent are multiracial. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed also lost their jobs due to their gender identity or expression. Francis has also had to hide their gender identity at certain jobs to avoid being fired.
Harassment and violence are also extremely prevalent issues for trans people. In 2015 alone, 23 transwomen were killed, which is almost twice as many that were killed in 2014. Ignorance and prejudice are highly reported with trans people, however, almost half of those who responded to a survey done by the National Center for Transgender Equality and The Task Force stated they were uncomfortable reporting incidences of harassment to the police. Of those who did, 22 percent of them in turn reported harassment by the police. The issues of ignorance and bigotry are also prevalent in trans people’s lives. According to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network 74 percent of trans youth have been sexual harassed in school because of their gender identity, while 55 percent have been physically attacked because of it. Others, like Francis, have experience more verbal harassment.
“I have had ignorance spewed at me by family,” Francis said. “There were many hostile looks and comments during my time traveling through the Bible Belt. [But] there are also select people that are very kind.”
Although TIME has referred to 2015 as the “Transgender Tipping Point,” and the trans equality movement as “America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier,” the statistics point to a need for more organization and more activism.
In Chicago alone, there are many organizations that exist solely to help uplift the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer population. The Center on Halsted, which has been around since 1973, is “the Midwest’s most comprehensive community center dedicated to advancing community and securing the health and well-being of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people of Chicagoland,” according to their website. They provide several different outreach programs for youth, and they also aim to prepare LGBTQ people for the workforce with training and GED programming.
Two other organizations that provide assistance and support to LGBTQ people are Chicago House and Howard Brown Health. Chicago House works to provide housing, employment services, medical help (including HIV prevention services) and legal services, among other things. Howard Brown Health has several locations in Chicago, and similarly works to provide support.
Francis has utilized both the Center on Halsted as well as Howard Brown Health. They have directed several short plays and participated in a reading at the Center on Halsted, and they use Howard Brown Health regularly for concerns more directly related to their health.
“The Howard Brown [Health] center is the reason I have insurance, therapy, access to educated doctors, hormones and a supportive ear,” Francis said.
Without centers like these that exist to support the transgender population of Chicago, it is without a doubt that the near 21,400 trans people living in Chicago would be at a great disadvantage. Though the United States is, supposedly, at the transgender tipping point, it is only with continued activism and support that the transgender community can truly be uplifted.