More than 40 percent of people who are transgender have attempted suicide, and about 80 percent have considered it. The attempt rate is 1.6 percent for the general population, and mental health experts say ongoing discrimination is one contributor to the large disparity. On Monday, Jan. 27, the Eugene City Council is scheduled to vote on amending the city code and adding gender identity to the definition of sexual orientation. The amendment applies to protections against discrimination in areas such as employment, housing and public accommodation.
“For those of us that do legal and medical advocacy, this is very important in case we need to go to court to support our clients,” says Allison Cleveland of the Oregon Anti-Violence Project. “This will help people form their policies and protocols and know where they stand.”
She adds that the amendment will help agencies make consistent policies and protocols and send a positive message to people who live in or pass through Eugene. “People deserve safety.”
Employment status has a significant impact on transgender people’s likelihood of having attempted suicide, according to a 2009 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. The study found that attempt rates rose for people who lost a job because of bias, were harassed or bullied in school or were assaulted physically or sexually. In the survey, 19 percent of respondents reported being turned down for housing due to their gender expression.
“We see a lot of homelessness, particularly in young people,” Cleveland says. “They are asked to leave or feel like the safest thing to do is to leave the homes of their parents and guardians.” When that happens, she says, some people live on the streets and resort to unsafe survival tactics that further threaten their well-being.
While the amendment is partly a housekeeping measure to make Eugene’s code consistent with the state’s, advocates for transgender rights say that protections against discrimination in employment, housing and elsewhere are vital to protecting a group that experiences a lot of prejudice.
“This affirms to vulnerable populations within Eugene that the city of Eugene is there and supportive of this population,” Cleveland says.