Transgender sex workers are mistreated by the institutions that are supposed to help them

Jan 2, 2016
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Transgender people, especially trans people of color, face devastating levels of discrimination in all walks of life. They experience dramatically higher rates of poverty, homelessness, mental health problems, harassment, and discrimination than other groups.

But for transgender people who work in the sex trade, these problems are even worse.

A new report takes a look at the discrimination faced by transgender sex workers, and it’s grim. The Best Practices Policy Project, the Red Umbrella Project, and the National Center for Transgender Equality examined data from the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), the most extensive survey ever taken on trans discrimination. Researchers took a closer look at the 694 NTDS respondents, about 11 percent of 6,450 total respondents, who reported experience with the sex trade. While both trans men and trans women reported engaging in sex work, trans women were twice as likely to do so.

As you might expect, the extreme marginalization of sex work combined with the extreme marginalization of being transgender is bad news for people’s well-being. Trans sex workers face much worse discrimination in education, the work force, and criminal justice than trans people who aren’t sex workers.

The study’s authors caution that they don’t know if the disparities they found between trans sex workers and other trans people are caused by sex work, or just related to the marginalization that causes people to turn to sex work in the first place. For instance, are people treated worse by doctors because of their status as sex workers, or because they are poor and tend to get worse medical care? It may be some of both, and the variables are complex.

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