The Importance of Trans Rights

Transgender people come from all walks of life, and HRC Foundation has estimated that there are more than 2 million of us across the United States. We are parents, siblings, and kids. We are your coworkers, your neighbors, and your friends. We are 7-year-old children and 70-year-old grandparents. We are a diverse community, representing all racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as all faith traditions.

The word “transgender” – or trans – is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned to us at birth. Although the word “transgender” and our modern definition of it only came into use in the late 20th century, people who would fit under this definition have existed in every culture throughout recorded history.

Alongside the increased visibility of trans celebrities like Laverne Cox, Jazz Jennings or the stars of the hit Netflix series “Pose,” three out of every ten adults in the U.S. personally knows someone who is trans. As trans people become more visible, we aim to increase understanding of our community among our friends, families, and society.

What does it mean to be trans?

The trans community is incredibly diverse. Some trans people identify as trans men or trans women, while others may describe themselves as non-binary, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, agender, bigender or other identities that reflect their personal experience. Some of us take hormones or have surgery as part of our transition, while others may change our pronouns or appearance. Roughly three-quarters of trans youth that responded to an HRC Foundation and University of Connecticut survey identified with terms other than strictly “boy” or “girl.” This suggests that a larger portion of this generation’s youth are identifying somewhere on the broad trans spectrum.

What challenges do trans people face?

While trans people are increasingly visible in both popular culture and in daily life, we still face severe discrimination, stigma and systemic inequality. Some of the specific issues facing the trans community are:

  • Lack of legal protection– Trans people face a legal system that often does not protect us from discrimination based on our gender identity. Despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision that makes it clear that trans people are legally protected from discrimination in the workplace, there is still no comprehensive federal non-discrimination law that includes gender identity - which means trans people may still lack recourse if we face discrimination when we’re seeking housing or dining in a restaurant. Moreover, state legislatures across the country are debating – and in some cases passing – legislation specifically designed to prohibit trans people from accessing public bathrooms that correspond with our gender identity, or creating exemptions based on religious beliefs that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people.

  • Poverty– Trans people live in poverty at elevated rates, and for trans people of color, these rates are even higher. Around 29% of trans adults live in poverty, as well 39% of Black trans adults, 48% of Latinx trans adults and 35% of Alaska Native, Asian, Native Americans and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander trans adults.

  • Stigma, Harassment and Discrimination – About half a decade ago, only one-quarter of people in the United States supported trans rights, and support increased to 62% by the year 2019. Despite this progress, the trans community still faces considerable stigma due to more than a century of being characterized as mentally ill, socially deviant and sexually predatory. While these intolerant views have faded in recent years for lesbians and gay men, trans people are often still ridiculed by a society that does not understand us. This stigma plays out in a variety of contexts – from lawmakers who leverage anti-trans stigma to score cheap political points; to family, friends or coworkers who reject trans people upon learning about our trans identities; and to people who harass, bully and commit serious violence against trans people. This includes stigma that prevents them from accessing necessary services for their survival and well-being. Only 30% of women’s shelters are willing to house trans women. While recent legal progress has been made, 27% of trans people have been fired, not hired or denied a promotion due to their trans identity. Too often, harassment has led trans people to avoid exercising their most basic rights to vote. HRC Foundation’s research shows that 49% of trans adults, and 55% of trans adults of color said they were unable to vote in at least one election in their life because of fear of or experiencing discrimination at the polls.

  • Violence Against Trans People– Trans people experience violence at rates far greater than the average person. Over a majority (54%) of trans people have experienced some form of intimate partner violence, 47% have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime and nearly one in ten were physically assaulted in between 2014 and 2015. This type of violence can be fatal. At least 27 trans and gender non-conforming people have been violently killed in 2020 thus far, the same number of fatalities observed in 2019.

  • Lack of Healthcare Coverage– An HRC Foundation analysis found that 22% of trans people and 32% of trans people of color have no health insurance coverage. More than one-quarter (29%) of trans adults have been refused health care by a doctor or provider because of their gender identity. This sobering data reveals a healthcare system that fails to meet the needs of the trans community.

  • Identity Documents – The widespread lack of accurate identity documents among trans people can have an impact on every aspect of their lives, including access to emergency housing or other public services. Without identification, one cannot travel, register for school or access many services that are essential to function in society. Many states do not allow trans people to update their identification documents to match their gender identity. Others require evidence of medical transition – which can be prohibitively expensive and is not something that all trans people want – as well as fees for processing new identity documents, which may make them unaffordable for some members of the trans community.

While advocates continue working to remedy these disparities, change cannot come too soon for trans people. Visibility – especially positive images of trans people in the media and society – continues to make a critical difference for us; but visibility is not enough and can come with real risks to our safety, especially for those of us who are part of other marginalized communities. That is why the Human Rights Campaign is committed to continuing to support and advocate for the trans community, so that the trans Americans who are and will become your friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members have an equal chance to succeed and thrive.


14 facts about trans lives and trans rights.

1. Trans people have always been around.

We’re often overlooked or erased in history and language has changed, but there are countless examples of trans people throughout history.

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2. Non-binary people have always existed.

You might not have heard the word “non-binary” until recently, but cultures around the world have long recognised that there are more than two genders.

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3. Trans adults started off as trans children.

It goes without saying that all trans adults started off as children. The Metro Youth Chances Report (2014) found that 2 in 5 trans young people (aged 16-25) realised that they were trans when they were age 11 or under. One major difference today in comparison to 20 years ago is that there are more openly trans people, meaning that trans children and young people realise that they aren’t alone in their feelings.

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4. Trans people face high levels of harassment and discrimination.

Despite improved acceptance of trans people in society, trans people still face high levels of harassment and discrimination. 51% of trans people have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination. Nearly 7 in 10 trans young people have been subjected to death threats at school.

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5. There is a biological basis for gender identity.

Medical literature, including studies of trans and intersex people, shows that there is a biological basis for gender identity.

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6. There is more to sex and gender than XX and XY chromosomes.

Sex is more complicated than your GCSE biology textbook would have you believe. This fact is borne out by the existence of intersex people. In fact, it’s incredibly complicated so do read the article below for more information.

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7. Trans people aren’t all attracted to women.

As is the case with the wider population, different trans people have different sexual or romantic orientations. Trans men can be straight, gay, bi, ace or identify their orientation in another way. Trans women can be straight, lesbian/gay, bi, ace or identify their orientation in a different way. Non-binary people can be attracted exclusively to men, women, non-binary people or they could be bi, ace or identify their orientation in another way too.

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8. Before 1971, trans people had some access to gender recognition.

Sir Ewan Forbes changed the sex on his birth certificate in the 1940s, announced his new name in the newspaper and legally married his wife. His cousin challenged the change for reasons of inheritance, but the judge ruled in Ewan’s favour. However, things changed in 1971 when April Ashley’s husband had their marriage annulled because he claimed that she was ‘a man’ because of being trans. Trans people in the UK were then left without access to gender recognition until the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act in 2004.

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9. Trans people without a gender recognition certificate are able to access single-sex spaces and services.

The Equality Act (2010) protects trans people under the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” from the start of social transition. This protection applies regardless of the age of the trans person, regardless of them being under medical supervision and regardless of what it says on their birth certificate. Under the act, trans men have the right to be treated the same as other man and have the right to access male only spaces and services. Similarly, trans women have the right to be treated the same as any other woman and have the right to access female only spaces and services. Non-binary people are protected under the “gender reassignment” characteristic of the Equality Act.

There is a legal basis for excluding trans people from single-sex spaces or services, however the law is clear in stating that these decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis and it must be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. It is worth noting that the legal bar for this is incredibly high. You’ll find more information on the Equality Act (2010) here.

There is an exception when it comes to sports, please scroll down for more detailed information.

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10. Trans people’s right to self-determination is grounded in international best practice.

The OHCR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) states that it is international best practice to allow trans people self-determination with regards to gaining legal recognition. Many countries allow trans people to gain legal gender recognition by signing a statutory declaration. Trans people are able to access self-determination in countries including Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Ireland, India, Malta, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal and Uruguay. You can read more about trans people in the UK’s rights to legal gender recognition here.

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11. Non-binary people’s access to legal gender recognition is grounded in international best practice.

The OHCR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) states that it is international best practice to allow non-binary people access to legal gender recognition. The following countries offer legal recognition to people who don’t identify as male or female (this includes non-binary people, but may also include people that identify in a different way): Austria, Iceland, India, Pakistan, Uruguay. Non-binary people are also offered legal recognition in some parts of Australia, Canada and USA. You can read more about the rights of non-binary people in the UK here.

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12. There are very few trans people in UK prisons.

Despite facing disproportionate levels of discrimination and financial hardship, trans people in the UK are less likely to be in prison than the general population. The Ministry of Justice reports low numbers of trans prisoners, with trans people constituting an estimated 0.16% of the UK prison population. If they don’t have a Gender Recognition Certificate, trans people in UK prisons are automatically placed in a prison that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth. To be transferred to a prison that corresponds to their gender identity, their case must be heard by the local case board and by the complex case board. All assessments are made on a case by case basis and are informed by a thorough risk assessment process. Transgender women with a Gender Recognition Certificate must be placed in the women’s estate unless there are exceptional circumstances. This is the same arrangement as for cisgender women, with decision making informed by a thorough risk assessment processes.

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13. No openly trans person has ever won an Olympic medal.

Trans people have been able to compete in the Olympics since 2004, when the International Olympic Committee first issued guidelines. Contrary to what some people might believe, trans people are not dominating international sport. In fact, no openly trans person has ever won an Olympic medal following transition.

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14. Most trans people are happy that they transitioned.

Most trans people are happy that they transitioned and 99% of trans people have no regrets about undergoing gender confirmation surgeries. A tiny minority of people do detransition and might do so for a number of reasons including family or societal rejection.

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15. It’s not hard to be trans inclusive.

Take a look at this All Gender Access Toolkit on inclusive toilets from our friends at Galop in collaboration with Good Night Out.