Interviewers for a landmark study of transgendered people in Chicago got a standing ovation Saturday after a sometimes tearful discussion of their role in the survey and the impact that being transgendered has had on their lives.
The study, Health and Social Service Needs of Transgendered People in Chicago, was presented by its researchers at a forum Saturday attended by an estimated 60 people. The research was funded by the University of Illinois-Chicago and conducted by principal investigator Gretchen Kenagy, assistant professor at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at UIC, and research assistant Wendy Bostwick.
Ten interviewers surveyed 111 transgendered people for the study, which was modeled after a similar work in Philadelphia. Researchers hope their findings can be used to help in the development of trans-sensitive social services and healthcare.
Participants were asked 135 questions related to their experiences with healthcare providers, what steps they're taking, if any, to transition from one gender to the other, how safe they feel in public, the role of violence and suicide in their lives and their HIV status and risk behaviors.
Kenagy stressed that the survey's findings are specific to the study sample and aren't representative of the whole trans community.
Of the sample, 78 ( 70% ) identified as male-to-female ( MTF ) , and 33 ( 30% ) identified as female-to-male ( FTM ) . The sample was 33% African-American, 44% white, 12% bi- or multi-racial and 10% "other." For the study, researchers divided the sample into two groupswhite and people of color. The average age was 35, with a range from 18-70 years old.
The median income was $16,900, a figure that alarmed many at the forum as being low, but Kenagy noted that the findings don't reflect how far above that number some of the participants fell.
Researchers noted that many of the survey's findingsincluding the prevalence of HIV and anti-trans violencepoint to the need for more research on trans issues.
Of the total, 14% tested HIV positive, a number much greater than the general population. None of the FTMs reported being HIV positive, while 21% of the MTFs did. No HIV tests were conducted for the survey, and researchers relied on participants' responses. About 22% of respondents reported having had an STD.
Two-thirds of the sample had experienced violence in their home at some point in their lives, while 60% reported experiencing physical abuse and 46% reported being forced to have sex. About a quarter, 26%, reported attempting suicide.
A majority of participants, 56%, reported feeling unsafe in public, and 40% predicted that their lives will be shortened by violence or chronic disease because they're trans.
Although 65% of the respondents reported having health insurance, 37% had problems with a physical exam because they're trans, and 11% were refused medical care.
The interviewers and others noted that transpeople are often forced to educate their physicians about trans concerns and care and that finding sensitive providers is an ongoing struggle.
Lora Branch, director of the Chicago Department of Health's Office of Gay and Lesbian Health, said the department has launched sensitivity training for its service providers across the city. Such training is also taking place for police and paramedics.
Kenagy said she hopes to combine her findings with the earlier study from Philadelphia, which surveyed 81 transpeople. She and others acknowledged that the Chicago survey has limitations, including the absence of a representative sample of Latinos. Participants were identified either by the interviewers or through advertising.
Kenagy chose the 10 interviewers, many of whom are active in the trans community or are service providers for trans-specific organizations or agencies. Eight of them attended the forum, and many said that they participated in the study both to help the trans community and to help themselves.
"I represent a community that almost no movement wanted in their movement, and that pains me greatly," said interviewer J. Mueller. "This group has some of the bravest, most courageous activists in the world."
"I'm very proud to be part of this panel and this project," said interviewer Lorrainne Sade Baskerville, founder of the service organization TransGenesis.