Amid an unprecedented rise in transphobia, trans and non-binary people across the U.S. now have a chance to make their voices heard. The U.S. Trans Survey (USTS), the largest national survey of trans people, is currently accepting responses—and the data it collects will almost certainly shape policy and reporting on trans people for years to come.
Administered by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the survey asks a broad range of questions, including those about trans people’s access to health care, employment history, family life, experiences in school and more. The survey is open to trans and non-binary people aged 16 and over living in the U.S. and its territories, regardless of their citizenship status, and people questioning their gender identity are also invited to respond. The survey will be open until November 21.
The NCTE offers the USTS in both Spanish and English, and any answers given in the survey are confidential. Because NTCE has received a Certificate of Confidentiality from the National Institutes of Health, they can refuse to share respondents’ information—even if it is requested by local, state or federal courts.
The survey serves to fill key gaps in research regarding trans people’s lives. Although national surveys like the census are slowly beginning to ask questions related to trans people, the U.S. Trans Survey remains the most expansive survey of its kind, and provides crucial data about trans people’s lives in the United States—data that will be essential as numbers of anti-trans bills continue to increase in the U.S.
Josie Cabellero, the director of the USTS and Special Projects at the NTCE, emphasized the importance of taking the survey.
“The U.S. Trans Survey provides much-needed information to help the public understand the lives and experiences of trans people (binary and non-binary) in the United States and the disparities that many trans people face,” Cabellero told Xtra over email. “The USTS fills in some of the large gaps in research about trans people, and it provides critical tools for researchers, policymakers and advocates seeking to better understand the needs of trans people and to find ways to improve their lives.”
Indeed, the 2015 version of the survey has continued to inform journalism and policy several years after it was first administered. The 2o15 survey, taken by 27,700 people, has been cited by the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, the Transgender Law Center and the National Network to End Domestic Violence, among others. Major outlets like CNN have cited the study, and research reports released as recently as last year still used its data. Jody Herman, the 2022 survey’s co-principal investigator, emphasized to CNN that the survey was key to understanding trans people’s unique experiences.
“Research in academia, medicine, by community organizations and others are working to fill gaps in our knowledge about trans people, but substantial gaps still exist in many areas,” Herman told the news channel. “Studies like the USTS will still be needed because they ask questions that are unique to trans people’s experiences, questions that wouldn’t be included in federal surveys.”
Some trans people, however, have found that the survey’s questions don’t reflect their experiences. Survey takers have taken to social media to express that the questions seem like they were only written with white, Western ideas of gender in mind. Others have argued that the questions oversimplify the reality of transition, arguing that it isn’t as clear-cut as the survey makes it out to be, and have expressed fears about bad actors working to skew the survey’s results.
The survey also comes after years of delays, due to major internal turmoil at the NCTE. In November 2019, nearly all of the organization’s staff took a 10-week buyout package after they accused the leadership of making NCTE hostile to unions, people of colour and people with disabilities. Staff stated in an open letter that at least 14 employees complained about racism, while four staff members of colour were made to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Still, Caballero emphasized to CNN that the survey was critical for trans people’s well-being—particularly given the maelstrom of anti-trans legislation and overall sentiment, which is often fueled by misinformation about trans people and their experiences.
“This is the kind of data our community is desperate for, fighting against bigotry that trans people have to endure,” Caballero told CNN. “This is a community-led survey by trans people, for trans people.”