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Trans Pulse peek reveals alarming initial results

More respondents needed to ensure solid data

PASS IT ON. Check out the promo video for the Trans Pulse Project on YouTube.com. Credit: Trans Pulse Project

With preliminary results now being analyzed in the province-wide Trans Pulse Project (TPP) researchers say they’re finally getting statistics to back up what activists have been saying for years.

“As expected healthcare and social service access in general remains very challenging for trans Ontarians and the implications are distressing,” says Jake Pyne, TPP’s community development coordinator. “Trans people report unmet healthcare needs, avoiding emergency rooms because they are trans, as well as avoiding or being denied access to services such as shelters and sexual assault centres.

“Most disturbing is the extremely high numbers who are reporting having seriously considered suicide in their lives.”

The initial results are based on the more than 200 responses that have been filled out since the survey into trans health was launched last February.

“When I said, ‘I knew there were problems,’ I had no idea,” says TPP coinvestigator Michelle Boyce, who adds that the study looks at health in a broad sense. “We look at shelter, income, employment and housing…. We look at the whole picture that makes a person healthy or unhealthy.”

“What is emerging is an extremely clear picture of the impact of social exclusion and discrimination on the lives of trans people in Ontario,” says Pyne. “Despite being well-educated trans people report very low incomes, many at or near the poverty line; worries about losing their housing; and anxiety about having enough to eat and enough money to pay the bills. Trans people are reporting that they have been turned down for jobs or fired for being trans. They are moving to other cities for safety reasons and to access trans-sensitive services.”

TPP, which began in 2004 as a project of Toronto’s Sherbourne Health Centre, is aiming to collect responses from 1,000 trans people across the province.

But it’s not as simple as sending trans people to the website to take the online survey. The project is using what is called a respondent-driven sampling method — each person who takes the survey is given pass codes that allow three more people to take the survey.

“We are using this method because trans communities are what’s called a ‘hidden community’ in research, meaning there’s no list of trans people that you could randomly select names from to survey,” says Pyne.

The process was seeded with 16 primary respondents, recruited as part of TPP’s community involvement team.

“To produce valid statistics it needs to be random,” says Pyne, “so we need to not have control of who fills it out. We began with our seeds and from there we have no control of where it goes. That produces the type of statistics that policymakers will see as valid.”

But more than nine months later the project is still a long way from having 1,000 completed surveys.

“I think some of the problems are that folks don’t realize how important filling out their one seemingly insignificant survey is and furthermore the importance of passing it on to up to three more trans folks you know,” says coinvestigator Kenji Tokawa.

“I think how folks are interpreting the ‘pass it on’ to a friend as you have to pass it on to someone you are really tight with — you know their birthday and favourite food — but this is absolutely not the case,” he says, adding that codes can be passed between folks who’ve met online via social networking sites or email listservs. “You can pass it on to a person you met even just once as long as they’ve met you… then the connection is there and the respondent-driven sampling works.”

He says that the length of the survey — it’s estimated to take between an hour and an hour and a half to fill in — may also be a factor. “The survey is long because we’re trying to be as comprehensive as possible, so we can record your individual experience, which is different than the next person…. That’s why there’s so many questions.”

But every survey counts, says Tokawa. “We already know that we face discrimination when accessing healthcare. But people in power need data.”