There is a highly resilient community in the U.S. that goes largely unnoticed and is one of the most vulnerable in our society: transgender Latino immigrants. Little is known about the many hardships trans immigrants face for a number of reasons. The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data about trans and gender nonconforming people; as a result, we don’t know how many trans people live in the United States, nor do we have accurate information about their social conditions. But a report from the TransLatin@ Coalition, Transvisible: Transgender Latina Immigrants in U.S. Society, sheds light on the experience and lives of trans people of color in the United States.
As the report shows, trans Latina immigrants—defined in the report as Latino person who was “assigned male at birth and currently uses transwoman, woman, or trans to refer to her gender identity”—have trouble obtaining identity documentation. About 70 percent of those surveyed said they don’t even have a U.S. driver’s license. Some gender nonconforming people are denied access to identification documents because their gender identity is not recognized as real or valid. For trans people, not being able to obtain a driver’s license due to immigration status, coupled with the extreme difficulty that they have acquiring legal documents that reflect their name and gender identity, has real-life consequences.
Almost half (49 percent) of those surveyed in this report were unemployed. Improper documentation and social marginalization also impacts the kind of work they are able to find. “Employment options are…limited. There isn’t much credibility granted to us,” said one respondent. Indeed, half of the employed respondents said they made less than $17,000 per year. And limited job prospects have resulted in more than one-third of respondents turning to sex work in order to supplement their income.
Given this reality, it’s imperative that trans Latina immigrants receive adequate health care. However, 65 percent reported having no medical insurance, and fewer than 10 percent reported having some form of employer-based health care.
Although some services exist to help the trans Latino community, sadly many people are not aware of them. For example, when it comes to legal protections from harassment and assault, many in the trans Latina community say they are too afraid to alert the authorities. About 45 percent said they feel they get no support from local authorities, a startling number when you consider that the trans community in general experiences a much higher rate of crime, harassment, and sexual violence than other groups. In fact, 80 percent of respondents said that in the last year they were victims of sexual assault but failed to report it.
These challenges naturally affect the mental and emotional health of transgender Latina immigrants. Three out of four (75 percent) reported feeling depressed in the 12 months prior to the report’s release.
That said, the report also revealed that while these women led difficult lives, they did have the moral and emotional support of others; 80 percent reported receiving emotional support from a family member, partner, or friend.
The staggering socioeconomic disparities revealed in this study underscore the importance of conducting more participatory research with this highly vulnerable community. What’s more, the authors go beyond documenting the issues and provide specific recommendations for researchers, educators, health professionals, and other community stakeholders. Of particular note is the emphasis on improving employment opportunities. The report calls for employers to develop guidelines for promoting the hiring of Trans Latinos. Obtaining steady and meaningful work is essential for success, and Trans Latino immigrants, as with so many other immigrant communities, are eager to employ their work ethic in order to provide for themselves and their families.
“I want people to recognize the importance of having a document such as this,” said Bamby Salcedo, president of the TransLatin@ Coalition. No report like this has been written before, and now we have a tool we can use to make changes.”