A third of Washington State's transgender residents cut down on eating and drinking in 2015 to avoid using the restroom for fear of confrontation and harassment, a new statewide survey found. Staffers with TRANSForm Washington, Gender Justice League and Ingersoll Gender Center developed the Washington State report based on responses from nearly 1,700 state residents who participated in the 2015 United States Transgender Survey.
The report highlighted that, like many transgender people across the U.S., trans Washingtonians still have to fight for their right to exist every day. They fight being misgendered. They fight to report being assaulted while walking down the street. They fight threats of conversion therapy. They fight to be represented in our education system. They still have to fight for a safe place to pee.
"The statistics that came out were not surprising [to trans people]—but they were shocking for the public to learn," said Danni Askini, executive director of Gender Justice League, at a forum at Columbia City's Southside Commons on Tuesday evening.
The Washington State survey focused on trans people's experiences with employment, education, health care, housing and homelessness and access to public accommodations, restrooms, and identity documents.
Findings included the lack of safe access to bathrooms. About 8 percent of survey respondents reported being denied access to a restroom with about 13 percent of people being verbally harassed and 1 percent being attacked when they tried to use a bathroom. And even worse: 34 percent of people surveyed said they "limited the amount that they ate or drank to avoid using the restroom in the past year."
"The restroom issue isn't [just] about restrooms, but limiting transgender people's abilities to live their lives," Sophia Lee, board chair of Gender Justice League, said during the press conference.
The survey also found that 28 percent of trans Washingtonians reported living in poverty while 14 percent said they were currently unemployed.
• 16% of respondent who have ever been employed reported losing a job in their lifetime because of their gender identity or expression.
• In the past year, 28% of those who held or applied for a job during that year reported being fired, being denied a promotion, or not being hired for a job they applied for because of their gender identity or expression.
Other workers who had held a job in the last year at the time of the survey reported "being verbally harassed (17%) and sexually assaulted (1%)" because they were trans. Twenty three percent of survey-takers reported being "forced to use a restroom that did not match their gender identity, being told to present in the wrong gender in order to keep their job, or having a a boss or coworker share private information about their transgender status with others without their permission," according to the report.
Panelist Isyss Honnen, who is Samoan and identifies as fa'afafine, said she became homeless while pursuing higher education in the States after being disowned by her family. Although she worked multiple jobs, including hard labor in Northwest fisheries, Honnen was unable to make ends meet. There, she claimed that access to healthcare was limited and trans rights were often violated. Eventually, Honnen said she became homeless.
That experience isn't uncommon. While 37 percent of Washington survey respondents reported experiencing homelessness during their lifetime, about 33 percent said they avoided shelters out of fear of mistreatment.
Even when trans people are able to find housing, some—about 26 percent of survey respondents—reported experiencing housing discrimination and being evicted because of their gender identity. Gender Justice League Program Manager Yani Robinson said they and other residents in their apartment complex were evicted for being trans. When they filed complaints to Seattle city officials, they claimed city staffers were familiar with their landlord, but that he was allowed to continue renting.
While struggling to find a job, Honnen said she resorted to sex work to survive, an industry she described as "coupled with sex abuse, substance abuse, depression, interactions with police, and homelessness." She now works with U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle to advocate for trans women of color in the sex work industry.
Of respondents who interacted with police officers, 60 percent reported experiencing mistreatment, including "being verbally harassed, repeatedly referred to as the wrong gender, physically assaulted, or sexually assaulted, including being forced by officers to engage in sexual activity to avoid arrest." As a result, 58 percent of respondents reported that they would feel uncomfortable calling the police if they needed help.
Panelist Monserat Padilla told The Stranger said calling the police for help has always been a risky decision for her because, in addition to being trans, she is an undocumented immigrant.
"As someone who is transgender, whenever we're in moments of crisis, the first thing that comes is the need to be safe," she says, "but the systems that are in place to 'keep us safe' put us at risk of getting more harassed or injured, [we have to question] whether we seek safety within the system or by staying silent."
When she experienced domestic violence, she worried that calling the police would result in her family being deported. It would require a "systemic and cultural shift" for police officers to get adequate training don't ensure trans people, including those of color or immigrant background, feel safe, Padilla said.
The gathering, which was primarily attended by trans Seattleites, also drew in Seattle mayoral candidates Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan, city council candidates Teresa Mosqueda and Jon Grant, and school board candidate Eden Mack.
"These are your constituents," Robinson of Gender Justice League reminded the Seattle candidates in the room after attendees shared their experiences with discrimination.
When asked what she took away from the forum, Durkan said that the report "shows us how much work we have left to do and how people are still so marginalized for reasons that are nothing but pure discrimination that has no place in this day and age."
Durkan proposed that, if she is elected, she would find ways to offer "know your rights trainings" for trans residents and funding more funding for the Seattle Office of Civil Rights, which enforces anti-discrimination laws.
If elected to office, Moon said she would prioritize addressing trans bullying in Seattle schools, ensuring trans people felt safe accessing public facilities, and consulting the Seattle's LGBTQ Commission to address other issues. Looking at the Washington State report, Moon said that she was most dismayed that nearly 80 percent of trans K-12 students experienced bullying in school, some to the point that they left their schools.
"We have to do something about that," she said. "How kids learn empathy and respect trust and be empathetic with one another is essential for society."
Read the full Washington State transgender survey here.
This post has been updated.