Where Is D.C.’s Transgender Data?
In June, the Mayor's Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs Affairs released the District's first report on the health of gay, lesbian, and bisexual residents [PDF]. At the report's conclusion, it admits to several limitations. Including this one: “there were no questions asked about transgender residents.”
Why did the report omit the T in GLBT? “The short answer is that we didn’t have any data to report,” says Christopher Dyer, Director for the Mayor's Office of GLBT affairs. "[Trans-specific health] is a brand new field of research at the government level."
The District's transgender community has become a lot more visible in recent years. In 2005, the DC Trans Coalition formed to advocate for trans issues in the District; in 2007, Capital Trans Pride was added to the roster of the city's LGBT pride celebrations. But scientific data moves at a slower pace than public consciousness does.
The new LGB health report relies on data from the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which tracks “health conditions and risk behaviors in the United States” via random phone surveys. The BRFSS surveys included in the LGB Health Report were completed in 2005 and 2007, when respondents' sexual orientation was on the CDC's radar—but gender identity wasn't. "There just weren’t questions asked about gender identity anywhere in the country in those years," Dyer says. “We need to add a question about gender identity."
In order to get transgender health data into upcoming BRFSS-based reports, Dyer says the CDC will first have to approve the gender identity question for the District survey. D.C. will have its next opportunity to request the question in January 2011. If it's approved, the random survey will then have to hit upon enough local transgender people for the results to be statistically significant. “The CDC has a requirement that you get 100 responses or more before you can do any kind of comparative analysis,” Dyer says. “There is no baseline data yet on the transgender population in this country, and it might take two to three years to get enough responses to even begin the analysis. It conceivably could be until 2013 or 2014.”
That's a long time to wait for accurate health information on the local transgender community, which often suffers from health disparities—like an increased risk for HIV. Yesterday, District trans activists took issue with the exclusion of trans data from the LGB report, and penned a letter to the Mayor's Office saying so. "[T]he goal of the report was to 'present data and prompt discussion' about how to improve the overall 'health outcomes in the GLBT community living in the District of Columbia,'" the DC Trans Coalition wrote in a press release. So DCTC was "alarmed" by "the report’s very obvious omission of existing research on D.C. trans communities."
The press release faulted the Mayor's Office for failing to look past the BRFSS-specific data to include information from other surveys that do include trans residents—like the District's 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey and its 2000 Washington Transgender Needs Assessment Survey. Since the results of the 2009 YRBS haven't yet been released, the ten-year-old Needs Assessment Survey provides the latest publicly-available data on the community. But according to the DCTC, "Acknowledging that the existing survey tools only provide a partial snapshot of the current health of local transgender communities in the report would have added much needed transparency."
The DCTC asked the Mayor's Office to wrangle up funding for a new comprehensive transgender needs assessment to supplement the 2000 report, to draw up a trans health report based on data available now, to add questions that include gender identity to all survey tools, and to show a "commitment to true inclusion." Dyer says he’s currently “exploring other options” for gathering transgender data that works with the population’s small sample size. "I'm personally committed to including transgender health data and making the report as good as possible," says Dyer. “When we do produce the transgender report, we want to make sure it’s the best data possible.”