Discrimination and Stigma Lead to Poorer Health Outcomes for Transgender Adults, New Study Says

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A report published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine suggested that discrimination against transgender adults leads to significantly worse outcomes for the transgender community, both in physical, mental, and lifestyle measures of health. The report analyzed several years of recent survey data, including data from over 3,000 transgender participants and over 700,000 cisgender adults representative of much of the United States; it was only in 2014 that the CDC even began to collect health data from transgender adults.

The report found that transgender people are 66 percent more likely to have experienced severe mental distress in the past month than their cisgender peers. They were also more likely to describe their overall health as “fair” or “poor,” as opposed to more favorable self-assessments, and comparatively felt that they had less “good” mental or physical days each month. Transgender adults were more likely to smoke cigarettes, less likely to live active lifestyles, and on top of everything, less likely to have health insurance.

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Kellan Baker, who authored the study, shared with Reuters his take on the survey results. “This study shows that being a transgender person in the U.S. today — being transgender in a society that you know doesn’t fully accept you — is hard.” Baker, himself transgender man, is a Health Policy Research Scholar at Johns Hopkins University. “It affects your health in negative ways, and that’s why issues such as nondiscrimination protections for transgender people are public health issues.” Another researcher who wasn’t involved in the study concurred, explaining that “multiple levels of transgender-specific stigmas” are what leads to the higher risks of poorer health outcomes.

The study was released the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court announced that they would be taking on the question of whether transgender and gay Americans are legally protected from workplace discrimination based on existing anti-discrimination laws. Specifically, the Supreme Court justices will be referring to three cases in order to determine whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protection for transgender and homosexual employees.

The three separate cases involve plaintiffs who were fired from their places of work due to their sexual orientation or changes in their gender identity. Two of the plaintiffs were able to win their cases in appeals courts; these two cases are exceptional, since according to the New York Times most appeals courts do not consider sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination to be the same thing as discrimination “on the basis of sex,” which is covered by Title VII. We’ll have to wait about a year until the Supreme Court decides whether gender identity and sexual orientation are protected by this law, as the justices won’t begin their deliberations until October.