Up to Us

A Community-Led Needs Assessment of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Bay Area

A group of transgender and non-binary Asians and Pacific Islanders and allies stand with fists raised.
They hold a colorful banner that reads "We have always EXISTED / we have always BELONGED.
 

Background

Up to Us is the first, most comprehensive study of transgender and gender non-conforrming Asians and Pacific Islanders in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In early 2019, APIENC began this community-based action research project in order to visibilize the experiences of TGNC APIs in the Bay Area, and create opportunities to organize in the long-term. Throughout this report, you will find the voices of trans APIs speaking to their experiences with police, searching for safe homes, surviving everyday violence, navigating health care, and finding the care we deserve. While the data can be heartbreaking, we believe this research is a powerful tool to shape our solutions and the future we deserve.

A large group of transgender and non-binary Asians and Pacific Islanders and allies smile at the 2019 Trans March Teach-In.
 

Purpose

For generations, harmful stereotypes have cast Asians and Pacific Islanders as upwardly mobile, wealthy, and passive. Centuries of colonialism have worked to erase trans people from API histories and communities. Research studies and organizing efforts that claim to be comprehensive continue to lack trans API voices, only leading to further invisibilization and divisiveness.

As trans API organizers, we know from personal experience that these stories are false. While the violence, racism, and transphobia that TGNC APIs face is rarely recorded, much less addressed, we KNOW our TGNC API community has needs. We experience them firsthand. Yet, for years we didn’t have the information we needed to counter this narrative, and respond.

We decided to carry out community-led research with the central question: What are the experiences and needs of TGNC APIs living in the Bay Area? We knew success meant more than the number of responses we received — we believed every relationship we deepened, every experience we documented, and every skill we practiced constituted a victory. This data is just the beginning, and now, it’s up to us.

Two TGNC API people are sitting indoors at a desk, smiling and pointing at colorful postcards that say “For Us, By Us.”
 

Key Findings

from our 181 final survey respondents, we found…


We need safe and
sustainable housing.

TGNC APIs in the Bay Area are highly vulnerable to housing discrimination and insecurity. More than 1 in 5 respondents have experienced homelessness, including almost half of respondents (40%) who live in San Francisco and almost half of feminine respondents (41%). From frequent gender-based harassment by landlords, roommates, and given families to the difficulty of finding housing while transitioning gender identification, our respondents underline the need to find safe and affordable homes for TGNC APIs in the Bay Area.
Bar chart

“I’ve felt actively afraid while looking for housing that I would be discriminated against or harmed, which made finding housing and having honest conversations with co-tenants and landlords challenging.”


We need affirming workplaces and abundant access to the resources that come with it.

Our participants face regular harassment in government agencies, in public spaces, and in their own workplaces. Almost one quarter (23%) of respondents were fired from a job, treated unfairly, or not hired because of their gender identities. This inability to find safe and sustainable places of work impacts our ability to find affordable housing, feel safety and security, access healthcare, afford basic necessities, and more.


We need strategies to address violence that rely on community, not police.

More than two-thirds of participants (68%) experienced verbal harassment, and one in every six (17%) were physically attacked. Unsurprisingly, more than 80% alter their appearance regularly to avoid harassment. Nearly two-thirds (58%) experienced sexual assault, and more then 40% experienced domestic abuse. However, while we experience high levels of violence, police do not support our safety, and often make us more unsafe. A vast majority (79%) felt uncomfortable asking the police for help. More than half of respondents (52%) were at times or never treated with respect by police. Clearly, police do not address our fundamental needs for safety.


“I’ve called law enforcement for my own protection […] Each time, I felt like law enforcement did not hear my voice […] and did not see me as human.” -young non-binary Indian respondent


We need affordable healing resources that address our gender and cultural needs.

Almost half (43%) of respondents were uncomfortable going to the doctor. Almost one third (28%) needed to see a doctor, but could not afford to. Moreover, while more than 70% of respondents seriously considered suicide and almost a third (29%) attempted suicide, 74% of respondents face barriers accessing mental healthcare, and half (49%) reported mental healthcare is generally culturally inaccessible. This is unacceptable; TGNC API people deserve culturally competent, affordable, and holistic care.


“I never feel my experience of my body is the most important thing, but rather whatever makes it easier for the doctor to ‘treat’ me. I don’t know what to wear, how to make my voice sound, or what name to use. It makes going to the doctor a scary experience.”


We experience different needs along lines of ethnicity, gender, ability, and more.

When we disaggregate the data, we see specific groups within the TGNC API umbrella experience harm and violence disproportionately. For example, feminine respondents are more likely to experience verbal harassment than people of other genders. South Asians and Pacific Islanders are far less likely to be treated with respect by police than East and Southeast Asians. Disabled respondents, as well as those who have been unhoused, were more likely to experience unwanted sexual contact, verbal harassment, and domestic violence. Participants who have traded sex experience higher rates of housing discrimination, homelessness, suicidal ideation, and police interactions.


We need well-resourced spaces where we are seen and accepted in all of our identities.

Despite the breadth of violence we face, TGNC APIs are building the spaces we need to thrive. More than half (52%) of participants said community spaces allow them to feel most supported as both TGNC and API people. However, many still cannot access affirming spaces, with 14% reporting no space allowed them to feel seen in both their TGNC and API identities. Building groups that center genuine relationships and care allows us to confront violence and transform our lives.


“It can be difficult to find help that can address all of my needs (gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, age, finances, etc), so I usually have to pick an area that I want to address through a resource and focus on it.”

 
 

Recommendations

APIENC’s Action Plan

Faced with housing insecurity, a lack of safety, and critical health and healing needs, TGNC API people need real solutions that address our experiences. It’s up to us. Through our organizing, APIENC will take action by…

A circle of TGNC API and allied community safety volunteers wearing green vests, with a sign that says "Community Security".

Invest in community-led healing and emotional skill-building

Many respondents felt most cared for in spaces with other TGNC APIs and people of color. There is an abundance of healing wisdom in our community—from herbalists, to bodyworkers, to TGNC API therapists, and more. We want to invest in supporting these healers, connecting them to others, and growing all of our skills to provide peer-support.

Train health providers to address TGNC API needs

Many respondents feel othered, intimidated, and rejected by professional health providers. We want to equip TGNC APIs with the skills to train care providers in the Bay Area, to ensure we feel safe visiting health professionals and that our needs are met when we do. Ultimately, we hope to foster a network of vetted care providers accountable to our community.

Leverage our voices as TGNC APIs in campaigns for housing justice

In the Bay Area, an abundance of organizations are fighting for affordable housing, rent control, and renter power. As TGNC APIs, we can speak to experiences of transphobia, racism, and xenophobia in housing. We want to ensure TGNC API experiences with housing are uplifted, and that housing justice is a priority in APIENC’s work.

Nurture TGNC API artists and invest in our storytelling

When we cannot see others like us, it becomes so much harder to imagine a future for ourselves. Many respondents have never met another TGNC API person; even more shared they have never been asked about their experiences with both identities. We want to invest in the artists and storytellers in our community who represent our complex experiences and support our communities to reclaim our voices through craft and expression.

Create concrete community safety strategies led by TGNC APIs

Clearly, existing institutions—such as police and prisons—do not meet our needs. These findings underscore the importance of continuing what many trans communities of color have done for generations—create safety for each other and ourselves. We want to continue growing spaces for TGNC APIs to deepen our relationships; to train safety teams during events and actions; to provide support to incarcerated and previously incarcerated TGNC APIs; to create pods and emergency plans; and convene spaces where our members can envision alternatives to policing and prisons on a local level.

Roadmap to Trans Justice for All of Us

The road to safety, justice, and recognition for all TGNC people will take far more than APIENC. When was say trans justice is “up to us”, we call on you—our allies, accomplices, community centers, neighborhoods, families—to take action with us.

A TGNC API person chants into a megaphone held by a friend; behind them, TGNC APIs march holding a banner and a pink and blue trans flag.

Close Circles

Families, Parents, Friends
For many TGNC APIs, navigating different cultural expectations, language barriers, and our complex histories of migration can make finding comfort and safety as trans people in our homes even harder. We need the concrete and ongoing support of people around us. We want to ask families (both chosen and given), parents, and friends of TGNC APIs to educate yourselves on TGNC issues, and start conversations with each other on how to respect and support the TGNC API people in your lives. Speak up for us when we are not in the room, make it clear to us that you love and appreciate us, and be willing to learn so we can feel safe.

Public Spaces

Schools/Colleges, Workplaces, Local Businesses
TGNC APIs face challenges in public spaces—from heavy harassment when using the bathroom, to verbal assault and abuse, to workplace discrimination—that make us unsafe and deepen mental and physical distress. All of these spaces can help. Start by making your bathrooms gender inclusive, while being explicit about why and educating patrons and staff. Create spaces where TGNC API people can receive care and mentorship, such as a support group in schools. Make it easy for all people to choose the names and pronouns they want to use by asking for and respecting pronouns as an expected part of your culture. Hire TGNC API people, and make workplaces safe for them by training staff on respecting gender identity and providing active mentorship and support.

Community Spaces

API Groups, LGBTQIA+ Spaces, Religious Institutions
TGNC APIs are members of all these spaces, yet our needs are often ignored. Many shared experiences of being rejected from API, LGBQTIA, and TGNC spaces they wanted to call home. We need API groups to recognize trans people are likely already part of your spaces, and may not feel safe sharing their identities. We need you to support trans leaders of all ages; to normalize advocating for trans issues; and to include gender trainings for staff and members. We need LGBTQIA+ groups to create space in multiple languages and for specific communities, such as non-binary people, Pacific Islanders, South Asians, and more. We need trans spaces to understand the experiences of API people, including our histories of trauma and oppression, beyond the model minority myth. We need religious institutions to listen to the needs of TGNC people, actively affim and trans and queer people as part of your communities, and support the people who are already organizing at the intersections of religion, gender, and sexuality.

Health Providers

Doctors, Nurses, Mental Health Workers, Insurance Providers
An overwhelming amount of respondents are unable to afford the care they need, matched with non-affirming providers, or barred from learning about available resources. To ensure TGNC APIs receive the care we need and deserve, we need doctors, nurses, and mental health providers to receive training specifically about caring for trans and API patients, ideally by paying trans API people to provide this education. We also need providers to make health information and care available in many languages, so TGNC APIs and our communities feel empowered to communicate our needs. We need more insurance programs to include gender-affirming care for trans people, so that the life-saving medical attention we need is easily accessible. We need to fight for the creation of alternatives to calling the police in crisis situations, such as the Mental Health First program piloted in Oakland and Sacramento, and support campaigns, such as Medicare for All, that seek to make healthcare easy to access for all people.

Funders

Progressive Funders & Donors
Community spaces are life-saving, and building relationships is a survival skill for TGNC APIs. At the same time, we are often forced to compete for limited resources and shape our work to be more understandable to funders who are not members of our communities. Instead, we need progressive funders to resource relationship building as a fundamental tool of organizing. We need you to fund abundantly, educate yourselves on the intersectional experiences of TGNC APIs, center healing, and prioritize the long-term perspective of our own people.

Media

Newspapers, Radio Stations, Media Sites
Diverse stories of TGNC APIs are invisibilized in the media. When we are highlighted, the focus is our trauma and pain, and the wrong pronouns and names are used to define us. Publishing sources can empower TGNC API peoples’ self-determination by asking us to tell our own stories and supporting us to do so. Embrace our complexities and do not pick single people to represent us. Ask for people’s names and pronouns and use them. Report a variety of our stories, including joy, healing, and transformation. For API media in particular— amplify our stories among immigrant and monolingual API people, to help initiate education that makes us safer in our homes, neighborhoods, and cultures.

Envisioning Resilience

We want TGNC API readers to feel seen, held, and empowered while exploring our research, and we know so much of this info can be heartbreaking. To help us center our visions for the future, TGNC API artists living in the Bay Area contributed stunning pieces to this report. They responded to the question: “What helps you practice resilience?” As you read the full report, we want to ask you the same question: what helps YOU practice resilience? What would it feel like to live safe, and free? What will it take for us to get there?


Trans Justice Authors & Researchers

Aloe Lai
Dorothy Tang
Huanvy Phan
JoJo Ty
Junior Claros
Kyle Ching
Lia Dun
Luke Soon-Shiong

mika hernandez
Rai Dang
Rowan Hunt
Sammie Ablaza Wills
Sen Lu
T Adiseshan
Theo Beltran
Yuan Wang

Trans Justice Committee Members

Amaya Wooding
Austin Lin-Truong
Avery Nguyen
Cameron Wu


Jaden Young
Jeffren Ramos
Leo Hegde
Phibi Tran


Contributing Artists

Kai Song
Shreya Basu
Trời Tim Trần
Yi-Yi Kung
Zara Jamshed
Mioi Hanaoka

Research Consultants

Audrey Kuo
Debanuj DasGupta
Kathleen Coll
Nancy Truong



Our Partners

Asians4BlackLives (Bay Area)
Bloom: Transgender Community Healing Project
GAPA
LGBT Youth Space
LGBTQ Connection
Lyon-Martin Health Services
LYRIC
National Center for Trans Equality
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance

Parivar Bay Area
Project Ohana in the Bay/HealthRight 360
SF Community Health Center
San Mateo Pride Center
Spahr Center
Queer Crescent
Transgender Law Center
Trans Lifeline
UTOPIA SF
VietUnity

Thank you ❤️

Download the Report and Take Action

▲ Image description: A group of transgender and non-binary Asians and Pacific Islanders and allies stand with fists raised. They hold a colorful banner that reads “We have always EXISTED / we have always BELONGED.”
▲  Image description: A large group of transgender and non-binary Asians and Pacific Islanders and allies smile at the 2019 Trans March Teach-In.
▲  Image description: Two TGNC API people are sitting indoors at a desk, smiling and pointing at colorful postcards that say “For Us, By Us.”
▲  Image description: A circle of TGNC API and allied community safety volunteers wearing green vests, with a sign that says “Community Security”.
▲  Image description: A TGNC API person chants into a megaphone held by a friend; behind them, TGNC APIs march holding a banner and a pink and blue trans flag.