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January 15, 2007

Transgender People Encounter Documentation Problem

All of the sources for my article "Transgender People Face Violence, Obstacles" spoke about the institutional barriers that exist for transgender people, and how such barriers often leave transgender people more vulnerable to violence. Unfortunately, hardly any data or statistics exist to give us a picture of what this community grapples with on a daily basis.

Avy Skolnik, a coordinator with the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, who is transgender himself, said the transgender community is usually left with only anecdotal information about their plight. Skolnik said that while "institutions view statistics as the real evidence," they make those statistics "nearly impossible to capture" by not documenting people as transgender.

Skolnik cited two examples:

"Common sense would tell us that being homeless is a factor that makes one significantly more vulnerable to violence. But how do we know that being trans makes one more likely to be homeless? Its hard to capture numbers of trans people in the population because of stigma, medical definitions of transsexual which differ from community definitions, issues self identification, and linguistic/cultural barriers. Its [also] hard to capture numbers of homeless people who are trans because most shelters only have male and female on their intake forms [and] homeless trans people may be discriminated against and turned away. What shelters document that they discriminate by turning trans clients away? The police are another example – again, incident reports do not offer a ‘trans’ option for an officer to mark – only male and female. And if such an option were available, the trans person might be reluctant to disclose their ID as trans. Why? Because of institutional transphobia.

The Gender Public Advocacy Coalition also encountered problems with proper documentation of transgender people when compiling their report on gender-non-conformity violence against youth. The report said:

With victims who were lesbian, gay, or bisexual, it was often difficult to distinguish whether attacks were motivated by a victim's sexual orientation or gender expression, or both. Police, media, and advocacy groups simply labeled all such attacks 'anti-gay,' making proper deification difficult. We therefore suspect a considerable undercount of fatal assaults against effeminate gay men and masculine lesbian women. We also suspect the omission of a significant number of gender-based fatalities against "aggressive" heterosexual women, who were attacked to enforce codes of femininity or punish them for intruding upon male privilege.

GPAC said they hoped this documentation problem will be remedied in the future in order to provide more accurate information on gender-based violence, but Skolnik was less optimistic. "Name the institution – whether its shelters, schools, hospitals, mental health services – the vast majority, we will run into this documentation problem."


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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.