The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Examining the Risk Factors for Denial of Equal Treatment in Social Welfare Services for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Clients

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 8:45 AM
Executive Center 3A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Kristie L. Seelman, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Denver, Charlotte, NC
For years, transgender activists and their allies have indicated that transgender and gender non-conforming people frequently experience oppression in social welfare systems due to policies and practices that do not acknowledge non-binary experiences of gender and that punish and discriminate against trans people. Anecdotal evidence indicates that problematic practices include (a) using intake forms that ignore non-binary genders (Davis, 2008); (b) assigning people into facilities that are incongruent with their gender (Lombardi & Davis, 2006); and (c) treating trans people as if their genders are the “problem” by forcing them out of homeless shelters (Spade, 2006) or using transphobic justifications for denying access to welfare benefits (Blum et al., 2000).

Few researchers have collected data from large samples of the transgender community. Additionally, scant research has attempted to distinguish the experiences of various subgroups within the transgender population (Davis, 2008). However, a recent study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (Grant et al., 2011) breaks these trends and samples a much larger portion of the transgender community in the U.S. about experiences accessing health care, social services, education, and public spaces. This research project utilizes data collected from that survey.

Purpose: The purpose of this research is to study the occurrence of unequal treatment of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in social welfare settings. The research question is: Among transgender and gender non-conforming people, which demographic variables, psychosocial risk factors, and gender-related characteristics predict an increased risk for denial of equal treatment in social welfare settings based upon gender identity and gender expression?

Methods: The NCTE/Task Force dataset was examined using secondary data analysis. Although this survey utilized a convenience sample, the geographic distribution of the 6,456 participants is said to approximately reflect the population distribution (Grant et al., 2011). The research question was examined using a series of logistic regression models.

Results: Significant predictors for denial of equal treatment across all settings examined included having a disability, having engaged in sex work, and whether people could tell that one is transgender or gender non-conforming.  In 3 of the 4 models, being a person of color, having attempted suicide, having lost the support of at least one family member, and having had transition-related hormone treatments or surgery predicted a significantly higher risk of unfair treatment. In some of the models, lower income, lower education, being MtF, and being older were significant predictors of unfair treatment.

Implications: Findings indicate that transgender and gender non-conforming individuals who hold other marginalized identities or have a history of psychosocial risks are more likely to have been thrown out of homeless shelters or denied equal treatment in social welfare settings due to gender identity and gender expression.  This presentation will detail implications for policy and practice with transgender and gender non-conforming people, such as the need for transgender-inclusive cultural competency trainings for agency staff and for practices that respect an individual’s pronouns, gender identity, gender expression, and preferred name.