Injustice at Every Turn — Part VI: Public Accommodation

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Scarlet Letter

Injustice at Every Turn (pdf) is a 122-page report of data gathered in 2008 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality concerning quality of life issues for transgender people living in this country.

Transgender and gender non-conforming people experience grave abuses when accessing everyday goods and essential services, from retail stores and buses to police and court systems. From disrespect and refusal of service to harassment and violence, this mistreatment in so many settings contributes to severe social marginalization and safety risk.

Previous “turns” have covered the basic data about who transpeople living in America are in Who we are — by the numbers, Part I: Education, Part II: Employment, Part III: Health Care, Part IV: Family and Part V: Housing

Still to come are the analysis of the data on identification documents and police and incarceration.

I was intentionally discriminated against by a motel owner. He told me he would not give me a room because I was a cross dresser, and to leave the property or he was going to call the police and tell them that a hooker was in the parking lot selling drugs.

44% of respondents reported being denied equal service or treatment in at least one of the types of public accommodation covered in the survey.  American Indian (49%), Latino/a (50%) and multiracial (57%) experienced this at higher rates than others in the sample.  Of course, money talks, with those earning less than $50K more likely to experience this sort of discrimination than those with higher incomes, though the rate was still 36% for those earning over $100K. Apparently money only whispers.  And this is one of the few cases in which transmen reported higher rates of discrimination than transwomen (50% to 44%).

A lot of people tell me I’m lucky because I ‘pass’ and am considered beautiful as a transgender woman, but… I sure don’t feel lucky. I’m always fearful every time I step out the door into the real world, that someone will harass or physically harm me.

Those living full-time in a gender other than that assigned at birth reported discrimination in public accommodations at a rate 6% higher than respondents as a whole.  Those who had medically transitioned reported such discrimination at a rate of 48%, while those who had surgically transitioned reported it at a rate of 51%.  People who had transitioned but were denied a change of gender marker on their driver’s license experienced this discrimination at a rate of 57%.

Fifteen kinds of public accommodation were reported as having had equal treatment denied, including retail stores (32%), doctor’s offices or hospitals (24%), interacting with a public official or governmental agency (22%), police (20%), emergency rooms (13%),  the court system (12%), at an airport or on an airplane (11%), and at a mental health clinic (11%).  Other settings were hotels and restaurants and buses, trains, or taxis, legal services clinics, ambulances or EMT vehicles, domestic violence shelters or programs, rape crisis centers, and drug treatment programs.

The fear of being the victim of a hate crime has also meant that I haven’t lived completely freely; I know that if people on the street knew that I was born female, I’d be at risk of violence or harassment.

53% of respondents had been verbally harassed at a place of public accommodation.  More likely to experience this were those who began transition at younger ages and those currently living full-time and blacks (56%), Latino/as (57%) and multiracial respondents (65%).  Verbal harassment and disrespect most likely occurred at retail stores (37%), in police interactions (29%), in hotels and restaurants (25%), in doctor’s offices or hospitals (25%), on buses, trains or in taxis (22%), by a government agency or official (22%), in airports or on airplanes (17%), in emergency rooms (16%), by a judge or court official (12%) and at a mental health clinic (12%).

Physical assault in a place of public accommodation occurred to 8% of respondents.  African Americans endured the highest rate of such assault  (22%), with Asian and Latino/a respondents distantly behind at 11% and whites and American Indians at “only” 6%.  Respondents who were younger were more likely to be assaulted than those who were older.  Non-citizens (documented (13%) or undocumented (12%)) reported higher rates of assault than US citizens (7%).

Physical attack was reported in all 15 listed settings, with the rate of assaults ranging from 1% to 6%).  The highest reported rate related to police services (6%), followed by buses trains or taxis (4%) and retail stores (3%).  2% of respondents reported being assaulted in a doctor’s office or hospital, which was the same as the rate attacked in a hotel or restaurant.

Retail stores are the setting in which the highest rates of unequal treatment, verbal harassment and disrespect occur.  The subgroups most affected by this are the usual suspects:  the young, people of color, non-citizens, people living on lower income, and those unemployed or working in the underground economy.  FTMs (40%) were also slightly more likely to experience such mistreatment than MTFs (36%).

Think about this.  What would your life be like if you needed to avoid retail stores in order to avoid harassment.

Hotels and restaurants are also places with relative high rates of unequal treatment (19%) and verbal harassment or disrespect (25%).  The demographic pattern for this is similar to that for retail stores.

That demographic patter also hold for ground transportation (where 9% experienced unequal treatment, 22% verbal harassment and/or disrespect. and 4% were physically attacked or assaulted) and air transportation (11%, 17%, and 1% respectively).

Travel is a nightmare. Searches, IDs, pat-downs, the new low-power X-ray, power-drunk guards, etc….and if your ID doesn’t match, you are immediately guilty until proven innocent.

Rates of mistreatment at government agencies or by government officials were among the highest rates for unequal treatment (22%), and verbal harassment and/or disrespect (22%).  Throw in interactions with judges and court officials (12% rate for each) and interactions with police and we can see a major problem transfolk have comes from those working, supposedly, in the interests of the people.

And there is the problem:  to most of them, we don’t rise to the level of people, but are rather considered to be subhuman.

It is a lonely place filled with seemingly endless scorn, ridicule and humiliation and the constant threat of violence.

What is quite sobering here is that this section doesn’t even scratch the surface of the restroom issue, which is what is hauled out at every opportunity to deny us equality.


  • Enact strong federal, state and local laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity/expression in places of public accommodation.
  • Government enforcement agencies should develop compliance regulations and guidelines, provide trainings for entities covered by the laws, and should effectively and thoroughly investigate complaints of discrimination, and when discrimination is found, use strong penalties to deter other entities from violating the law.
  • Places of public accommodation should develop their own non-discrimination policies related to gender identity/expression and train staff on how to follow these policies. Service organizations should develop cultural competency. Institutions include:
    • Retail stores
    • Hotels
    • Restaurants
    • Transportation agencies, including mass transit and taxi systems
    • Airline and airport staff, including Transportation Security Officers
    • Rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters
    • Government agencies
    • Judges and court systems
    • Legal services agencies
    • Police departments (more specific recommendations will appear on the section on police and incarceration)
    • Doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other health related services (see the health care report for more specific recommendations).

But we shan’t see these recommendations acted upon, of course, because the public accommodation that trumps all is the public restroom.  And instead of fearing actual rapists and child molesters, the public fixates on us.

1 comment

    • Robyn on February 19, 2011 at 20:52

    …and I will then stop boring everyone, as I apparently have been doing, given the general lack of discussion surrounding the series.

    But maybe someday in the future someone might want to resurrect this, so it’s probably not a total waste.

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