As the world marks the Transgender Day of Remembrance to commemorate the transgender and gender-nonconforming people taken from us by violence in the past year, a new resource -- the trans-staffed crisis phone line Trans Lifeline -- is now available to help trans people. "According to the most recent and comprehensive statistics available, 41% of trans people attempt suicide at least once in their lives, and the figures go up to 50% if their trans status is known or disclosed," said Trans Lifeline President Greta Gustava Martela. "We'd like to get that to zero. Our community needs every one of our members." Trans Lifeline launched on November 1, 2014 and is staffed and managed by volunteers and staff who are themselves trans. It is the first crisis and suicide prevention hotline specifically focused on the trans community and all services are free. The hotline number is 877-565-8860.
Earlier this year, the National Transgender Discrimination Study of the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the largest ever conducted to date, reported that 41 percent of people who are transgender have attempted suicide, about nine times the national average. The original study by researchers from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law reported that harassment, family rejection, unstable housing and employment, and discrimination in work and health care lead to even higher rates of suicide attempts among trans people. Of the 6,456 transgender respondents, 78 percent who experienced social and family rejection attempted suicide, as did 65 percent who experienced work-based violence and over half who experienced anti-trans bullying at school.
About one in three transgender people worldwide are reported to die from suicide attempts, including after beginning transition. Though a few vocal opponents of gender transition may use this statistic to argue against trans* identities entirely, a careful contextual analysis of the discrimination against trans people (the main trigger for suicide attempts) demonstrates discrimination, which only occurs after a transgender person has revealed their gender complexity to others, to be a significant triggering factor in the majority of attempts. Thus, trans suicides are driven not by our gender itself but by our reactions to transphobia -- social hatred of us expressed in countless daily microaggressions (not being able to use a public restroom for example); being excluded from and even hounded by our own faith communities; job discrimination and all that ensues -- homelessness, lack of access to medical care, poverty, and so much more. Legal protections have helped some of us, but they are not always enforced. And as Martin Luther King, Jr. always said, one can legislate public morality but the real work (spiritual work) is to change people's hearts, to grow beyond hate and fear of the "other."
On this life-saving issue, we can thus find one rare point of agreement even with one of our staunchest critics; Yes, it IS time to focus social, financial and media resources on the prevention of suicide. In answer to the charge that we neglect to do so, many of us have long been working quietly with organizations like The It Gets Better Project / Trevor Project, The GLBT National Help Center, and other local and trans-specific groups as well. We in the transgender community DO want to prevent suicides and all other forms of hate against our community that in one way or another lead to our disproportionate deaths. We work in ever more visible ways to do so, now including Trans Lifeline.
As we celebrate Transgender Day of Remembrance and Trans Awareness Week, let us remember ALL trans lives lost to hate this year. May we all work together to end the forces that lead to these needless deaths.