A growing body of evidence points to the multitude of challenges affecting the quality of life of gender minority populations, including poverty, violence, incarceration and routine discrimination in housing, employment, educational, and health care settings. Additionally, due to negative societal response towards gender non-conformity, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals (TG/GNC) are at increased risk for HIV infection, substance misuse, and suicide. To assist with the negative effects of discrimination, TG/GNC may seek out social, emotional, and/or material support from social workers and social service organizations. However, limited research has examined whether TG/GNC experience discrimination within social service settings, and – if they do- what are the predictors or consequences of mistreatment in what is assumed to be a safe and supportive environment. The purpose of this paper is to: 1) illuminate the magnitude of discrimination in social service settings among this community; 2) identify those within the transgender and gender non-conforming community most at risk for experiencing discrimination in a social service setting, and 3) provide a framework for future research and recommendations for practice within the field of social work.
Materials and Methods:
Data were drawn from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (N=6456). This secondary analysis was restricted to 5981 TG/GNC identified individuals, 475 (7%) participants were excluded from this analysis because they had either not accessed or presented as transgender when accessing the services examined. We compared sociodemographic characteristics and self-reported psychosocial and health related indicators among respondents who experienced discrimination in the social service settings and those who did not using chi-square.
Overall 16% (n=952) of respondents reported experiencing some form of discrimination related to their gender identity or gender expression within a social service setting. Participants who experienced social service discrimination were more likely to be between the ages of 18-24, a person of color, and male at birth. Experiences of discrimination in social service settings were also associated with lower income, less educational attainment, unemployment, and being uninsured or publically insured. Respondents who experienced some form of discrimination in a social service setting also reported a higher incidence across all psychosocial and health related indicators when compared to respondents who did not (suicide attempts, 68%, 41%; substance misuse 46%, 29%; positive HIV serostatus, 7%, 1%; transactional sex, 31%, 9%, housing instability, 27%, 13%, respectively).
Discrimination within social service settings is an understudied barrier to care that may negatively affect psychosocial and health outcomes for TG/GNC. Given the persistent experiences of discrimination faced by this community, it is likely TG/GNC will come in contact with some form of social service. Attention to intersecting social identities is essential to understanding differential experiences of discrimination by TG/GNC. A better understanding of the types of social services TG/GNC access, the social services most needed by this community and social worker’s attitudes towards and knowledge of this community are critical to the development of effective interventions for this community.