Session: Resilience in Response to Institutionalized Risk: The Experiences of Transgender Veterans (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

264 Resilience in Response to Institutionalized Risk: The Experiences of Transgender Veterans

Sunday, January 17, 2016: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Ballroom Level-Congressional Hall A (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
Cluster: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Symposium Organizer:
Ryan M. Kull, PhD, New York University
James I. Martin, PhD, New York University
The experiences and needs of transgender veterans are poorly understood, despite some evidence that transgender veterans are at increased risk for negative health and mental health outcomes. For example, compared to the general veteran population, studies have observed higher rates of health care utilization and suicide-related events among transgender veterans (Blosnich et al., 2013; Shipherd et al., 2011). In addition to the occupational and psychosocial stressors that the general veteran population experiences, transgender veterans commonly face institutionalized stigma, transphobia, and heterosexism that might explain their increased risk for negative health outcomes. Some research on cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations has explored, through the lens of the minority stress model, the effects of stigma on their health and mental health outcomes; however, similar dynamics have not been examined among the transgender veteran population. Furthermore, the limited research that exists focuses primarily on the risks facing transgender veterans, and not their strengths, which can reinforce medicalizing and pathologizing dynamics that have typically marginalized this population.

There is a paucity of empirical research on the experiences of transgender people in general. Given that veterans appear to be overrepresented among the general transgender population (Blosnich et al., 2013), there is both an opportunity and an urgent need to better understand transgender veterans’ experiences. This symposium fills an important gap in research by utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to examine the experiences, risk, and resilience of transgender veterans.

The first paper explores transgender veterans’ stigmatizing experiences in the military, such as violence, harassment, and heterosexism, using recent cross-sectional survey data. The second paper builds on these findings by examining how transgender veterans’ identity-related minority stressors inform their healthcare seeking behaviors and mental health. Finally, using a queer theory-informed ethnographic methodology, the third paper investigates transgender service members’ and veterans’ first-person narratives to examine culturally specific forms of strength and resilience.

Together, these studies provide a much needed multidimensional perspective on the risks that transgender veterans’ encounter both in and out of military service, as well as the coping mechanisms and strengths they demonstrate in the face of adversity. The symposium will help to shape future research through the examination of risk and resilience in a poorly understood population through both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. These papers comprising this symposium also will help social workers to better understand the risk factors facing transgender veterans, as well as how to better meet their health and mental health needs, anticipate barriers that they may experience in seeking services, and take an affirmative stance in promoting their health and welfare.

* noted as presenting author
Occupational Risk and Health Outcomes Among Transgender Veterans
Katharine Bloeser, MSW, Department of Veterans Affairs
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