There are many serious issues facing the transgender community. Violence, unemployment and discrimination are rampant; access to medical care is a concern. Some local medical professionals will not treat transgender people who come presenting themselves as other than their biological sex; although technically illegal, others refuse to treat transgenders. A growing minority are open, understanding and inclusive.
The many social, psychological and economic difficulties transgender people face often lead to substance abuse, as well as suicidal thoughts and ideations.
“I was a raging alcoholic and a drunk for years,” says Synthia Roy. “… I started drinking because I didn’t like my body and I couldn’t be female and I wasn’t female so I said, ‘Fuck it,’ and I partied.”
Roy says she can’t count how many suicide attempts she’s made; some were attempts on her life, other times she hurt herself to release tension. She has not made any attempts since transitioning.
In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, conducted by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality, found that 41 percent of transgenders surveyed reported suicide attempts, as compared with 4.6 percent of the general population.
Sadly, transgender youths, like all LGBTs, are some of the most vulnerable and victimized members of the community.
Bradley Landon works with JASMYN (Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network), a local nonprofit that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth population. Several sources said transgender youth fear police; the community has long had a volatile relationship with law enforcement. Police harassment of transgenders and other LGBTs sparked the modern LGBT rights movement in the middle of the 20th century. A 2012 study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that transgenders were 3.32 times more likely to experience police violence
Landon says, “70 percent of all trans people in K-12 have faced harassment, 12 percent have been sexually violated, 35 percent have faced physical assault, so 50
percent of them have dropped out. From that 50 percent, 48 percent are homeless.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that of the nation’s 1.6 million homeless youth, between 20 and 40 percent, or 320,000 to 640,000 people, are transgender.
Kicked out by their families, unable to find work and faced with the harsh reality that nearly all the city’s homeless shelters do not provide accommodations for transgenders (Sulzbacher Center is a lone exception), on the streets many will turn to prostitution and substance abuse, both of which elevate the risk of contracting HIV.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, transgender communities have the greatest risk of contracting HIV. In 2011, the CDC reported that “a meta-analysis of 29 published studies found that 27.7 percent of transgender women tested positive for HIV.” HIV is particularly prevalent among transgender women of color. According to the CDC, “Higher percentages of newly identified HIV-positive test results were found among black/African-American transgender women (56.3 percent) than among white (16.7 percent) or Latino (16.1 percent) transgender women.”
Based on CDC and U.S. Census data, 0.37 percent of the general population is HIV positive. Therefore, the rate of HIV infection for transgender women is nearly 75 times greater than that of the general population.
Transgenders are among the most vulnerable members of our community. Yet locally, few resources are available to those in this group, who are simultaneously ostracized, mocked and discriminated against. Many believe local attitudes toward transgenders and the lack of resources are indicative of a culture of apathy and bigotry.
“JASMYN does great work — there’s just not enough resources for all of the needs of the transgender youth and all the LGBT community,” says Cam. Jake Moore echoes his sentiments, “I think what Jacksonville is missing right now is a general LGBT center for all … there’s nothing for adult people who are trans.”
As numerous, pressing and arguably depressing the many, many issues are that face the transgender population in both the nation and the city, every single transgender FW interviewed for this article looked with hope toward a brighter future. Many spoke glowingly of the strength of the community. Several pointed out that transgender women were central to sparking the LGBT rights movement. In 1959, transgender women pelted police with coffee cups and donuts when they attempted to arrest patrons of the trans-friendly café Cooper Do-Nut in Los Angeles; novelist John Rechy was among those arrested and later included the event in his 1963 novel City of Night. (The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, which are largely credited with triggering the movement, were also incited by transgender women, specifically transgender women of color, not a white gay man as portrayed in the recently released movie Stonewall.) Since then, they’ve been waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. But no matter how this next chapter of Jacksonville and national history plays out, just like Terrianne Summers, they are not going to give in or back down.
“Transgenders are some of the most resilient people I know,” says Landon.