A busy crowded street A busy crowded street

Introduction to the review

The Trans Research Review, a review of evidence on inequalities conducted for the Commission (Mitchell and Howarth 2009) (1)  reminds us that:

'it is only in the last decade that trans people have been accorded rights and given protection in law from discrimination. There is growing recognition of the discrimination, inequalities and social exclusion that trans people face by policy makers and the public. Much of the progress achieved in the last decade can be attributed to successful campaigning by trans groups such as Press for Change.'

'The qualitative and quantitative evidence that has been collected to date (see, for example, Whittle and colleagues, 2007) leaves no doubt that trans people experience severe discrimination and frequent infringements of their rights across a broad spectrum of areas of life' (Alkire et al. 2009).

The trans review highlights the inequalities and high levels of discrimination trans people face including: attitudes towards trans people; housing; education; crime; economic status and employment; health and social care; media, leisure and sport; family life and relationships; community and citizenship (Mitchell and Howarth 2009).

Transphobic harassment

Existing evidence suggests that trans people experience, and are badly affected by, transphobia, in a wide range of forms. This includes bullying and discriminatory treatment in schools, harassment and physical/sexual assault and rejection from families, work colleagues and friends. For example, Morton (2008), found that 62 per cent of respondents had experienced transphobic harassment from strangers in public places who perceived them to be trans. Whittle et al. (2007) also found that a majority of respondents had faced harassment in public spaces. They noted that ‘73 per cent of respondents experienced comments, threatening behaviour, physical abuse, verbal abuse or sexual abuse while in public spaces.’ Tackling transphobia must be a priority.

Data on trans population

No major Government or administrative surveys have collected data by including a question where trans people can choose to identify themselves. Publicly collected data on trans people is virtually non-existent, though there is some evidence on attitudes towards trans people, for example in the 2006 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 50 per cent of people said they would be unhappy if a close relative formed a relationship with a transsexual person (Bromley et al., 2007) and in the Commission's Who Do You See? attitudinal survey in Wales, the figure was 47 per cent (EHRC, 2008).

At present, there is no official estimate of the trans population. The England/Wales Census and Scottish Census have not asked if people identify as trans and do not plan to include such a question in 2010. GIRES, in their Home Office funded study estimate the number of trans people in the UK to be between 300,000 - 500,000, defined as ‘..a large reservoir of transgender people who experience some degree of gender variance’ (Reed et al 2009) (2)

The absence of public data raises significant concerns for populating the Equalities Measurement Framework, in order to map the changing face of inequality for trans people. There are a number of important sensitive methodological and ethical issues that need to be addressed when collecting public data on trans people:

  • We do not have a tested and agreed question on trans status, (as we do with sexual identity), to use in public data sources and it will take time before one is developed. Instead, researchers have used a range of different terms and sometimes problematic definitions, that may not include all trans people, for example, 'someone who has had a sex change operation'. It will be important to develop a question, or questions, using appropriate definitions, that include all trans people.
  • If there are small numbers of trans people in certain places or organisations, then data collection may mean that it is possible to identify who they are.
  • Privacy, confidentiality and anonymity, are key concerns, amongst others, in building the evidence base for trans people.

We have relied on the good work of key individuals and organisations like: Press for Change, GIRES, a:gender, and the Scottish Transgender Alliance, among others, to develop the evidence base on trans people. However, it is vitally important that key public bodies and a wide range of organisations come together to support this work, and we move forward the appropriate collection of public data on trans people. Evidence is the key to making services reflect everyone’s experiences and meet their needs. 

End notes

(1) The review was closed early 2009, therefore will not include recent evidence.

(2) ‘The adults who present emerge from a large reservoir of transgender people, who experience some degree of gender variance. They may number 300,000, a prevalence of 600 per 100,000, of whom 80% were assigned as boys at birth. However, the number would be nearly 500,000, if the gender balance among transgender people is equal. Service providers and employers need to be aware of this large group, who, whether or not they present for medical treatment, may still experience discrimination and be vulnerable to bullying and hate crime.’ (Reed et al. 2009:4)



Last updated: 06 Nov 2017