This is a guest post from Andrea Zekis, executive director of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition.
I will argue that these next few days are the most crucial this year for the transgender, genderqueer and gender non-binary persons who call Arkansas. That’s saying a lot, knowing the visibility of transgender people has grown to the point where any Arkansan can read or watch about the lives of people like Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox an
d Jazz Jennings or learn about the violence, discrimination and disparities experienced by people considered some of our country’s most vulnerable. Not to mention, the very public non-discrimination ordinance battles in Arkansas from Eureka Springs to Fayetteville, where arguments about bathroom usage by transgender people pointed harsh and fear mongering language from public figures like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Michelle Duggar against a community and their supporters advocating for people to see the humanity and basic needs of transgender people. I argue these next few days are most important because the U.S. Trans Survey heads into its final days, and this survey has the potential to be a game changer for the transgender community, much like its predecessor the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey resulted in the 2011 report, Injustice At Every Turn, which became the second most cited LGBT related survey of the last five years. From policy changes at the federal level to ordinance battles in Fayetteville and Eureka Springs, people have turned to the Injustice at Every Turn study to educate the lawmakers and the public about the harsh realities faced by transgender persons. Last year, when preparing to implement a new policy at the Little Rock Police Department regarding interactions with the transgender community, I recall Chief Kenton Buckner citing the study’s reported 41 percent attempted suicide rate among transgender persons as one of the reasons for putting a policy to better serve the transgender population in place. I have found Injustice at Every Turn to be a valuable entry point into conversations about transgender persons, and ultimately one of the major factors behind the current heightened visibility of transgender persons, their lives and their issues.
With five years passing since the last study, the National Center for Transgender Equality and many other advocates around the country saw the importance of a newer, more comprehensive study reaching many more people. The U.S. Trans Survey, which can be taken online at www.ustranssurvey.org, touches on a wide range of topics ranging from employment, housing, health care, HIV/AIDS, disabilities, immigration, sex work and police interactions. Unlike Injustice at Every Turn which looked at the population nationally, the U.S. Trans Survey seeks to breakdown the results by state as well, so Arkansans will get a clearer picture of what it means to be transgender in the Natural State. This would be a great benefit for providers, policymakers and advocates that serve the transgender population, but it will only be happen if a large proportion of the estimated thousands of transgender Arkansans take the U.S. Trans Survey.
Since Aug. 19, when the survey launched, I have hosted survey-taking events throughout the state of Arkansas. Now, the U.S. Trans Survey takes about an hour to complete, and some of the questions are very personal or intimidating, so I found some participants needed support and encouragement while taking the survey. I have heard some people talk about starting and stopping, facing time constraints or technology problems, but at the end, I have seen people with a sense of accomplishment. They often recognize the U.S. Trans Survey as one of the best opportunities they have to advocate for themselves, to make life easier for future generations of transgender persons around the country and here in Arkansas.
The deadline for the U.S. Trans Survey is Monday, Sept. 21, so if you know a transgender person who may not have access to a computer or may not know about the survey, have that conversation with them. They may not think much about that hour now, but in the coming years, it may end up being one of the most important hours they ever spent. If you have taken the survey, you have my gratitude.