Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 274–287 | Cite as

Navigating Community Institutions: Black Transgender Women’s Experiences in Schools, the Criminal Justice System, and Churches

  • Louis F. GrahamEmail author


Young transgender women, especially those of color, are negatively impacted by suicidality, HIV, residential instability, survival sex work, and other challenges. This study used an oral narrative approach to collect life histories of 10 young black transwomen between 18 and 24 years of age residing in Detroit, Michigan. This study used grounded theory analysis to explore institutional violence, discrimination, and harassment (VDH). Participants described their experiences navigating three community institutions (schools, the criminal justice system, and churches) and broader society. Results highlight VDH through gender policing at school, sexual victimization in the criminal justice system, and negative judgment of gender variation in faith-based institutions. Participants reference the essential role of support systems, including other transgender individuals, in both their gender identity development and the navigation of institutions. Significant policy intervention is needed to protect and support transwomen, and prevent VDH perpetuated against them. Across all institutions, policy and practice interventions can focus on use of transgender appropriate and sensitive language, prevention of physical and sexual assaults, and anti-discrimination measures. Specific policy recommendations and future research directions are outlined.


Transgender Violence Discrimination Social support Narrative 


  1. Anderson, E. (2012). Police investigate fatal shooting in area neighbor calls Detroit’s unofficial red-light district. Detroit Free Press. Detroit.
  2. Battle, J., & Crum, M. (2007). Black LGB health and well-being The Health of Sexual Minorities (pp. 320–352). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bauer, A. F. (2002). State of the States 2002: GLSEN’s Policy Analysis of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Safer Schools Issues.Google Scholar
  4. Bernstein, E. (2010). Temporarily yours: Intimacy, authenticity, and the commerce of sex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bochenek, M., & Brown, A. W. (2001). Hatred in the hallways: Violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students in US schools: Human Rights Watch.Google Scholar
  6. Bockting, W., & Cesaretti, C. (2001). Spirituality, transgender identity, and coming out. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 26(4), 291–300.Google Scholar
  7. Bockting, W., Robinson, B., & Rosser, B. (1998). Transgender HIV prevention: A qualitative needs assessment. AIDS Care, 10(4), 505–525.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brennan, J., Kuhns, L. M., Johnson, A. K., Belzer, M., Wilson, E. C., & Garofalo, R. (2012). Syndemic Theory and HIV-Related Risk Among Young Transgender Women: The Role of Multiple, Co-Occurring Health Problems and Social Marginalization. American Journal of Public Health, 102(9), 1751–1757.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown, T. L., Parks, G. S., Zimmerman, R. S., & Phillips, C. M. (2001). The role of religion in predicting adolescent alcohol use and problem drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 62(5), 696.Google Scholar
  10. Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  11. Clements-Nolle, K., Marx, R., Guzman, R., & Katz, M. (2001). HIV prevalence, risk behaviors, health care use, and mental health status of transgender persons: Implications for public health intervention. American Journal of Public Health, 91(6), 915.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59(8), 676–684.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Conrad, C. F. (1978). A grounded theory of academic change. Sociology of Education, 51, 101–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Conward, C. M. (2000). Where have all the children gone: a look at incarcerated youth (27th ed., p. 2435). America: Wm. Mitchell L. Rev.Google Scholar
  15. Cotton, S., & Berry, D. (2007). Religiosity, spirituality, and adolescent sexuality. Adolescent Medicine: State of the Art Reviews, 18(3), 471.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Cotton, S., Zebracki, K., Rosenthal, S. L., Tsevat, J., & Drotar, D. (2006). Religion/spirituality and adolescent health outcomes: a review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38(4), 472–480.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43, 1241–1299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2011). Critical race theory: An introduction. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  19. Dewey, R. (2012). Detroit police investigate fatal shooting in area known for prostitution. CBSDetroit. Retrieved 27 May 2013, from
  20. Dowshen, N., Forke, C. M., Johnson, A. K., Kuhns, L. M., Rubin, D., & Garofalo, R. (2011). Religiosity as a protective factor against HIV risk among young transgender women. Journal of Adolescent Health, 48(4), 410–414.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Flyvbjerg, B. (2002). Making social science matter: Why social inquiry fails and how it can succeed again. London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  22. Fullilove, M. T., & Fullilove, R. E. (1999). Stigma as an Obstacle to AIDS Action The Case of the African American Community. American Behavioral Scientist, 42(7), 1117–1129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Garofalo, R., Deleon, J., Osmer, E., Doll, M., & Harper, G. W. (2006). Overlooked, misunderstood and at-risk: Exploring the lives and HIV risk of ethnic minority male-to-female transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38(3), 230–236.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Garofalo, R., Osmer, E., Sullivan, C., Doll, M., & Harper, G. (2007). Environmental, psychosocial, and individual correlates of HIV risk in ethnic minority male-to-female transgender youth. Journal of HIV/AIDS Prevention in Children & Youth, 7(2), 89–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Golub, S. A., Ja’Nina, J. W., Longmire-Avital, B., Bimbi, D. S., & Parsons, J. T. (2010). The role of religiosity, social support, and stress-related growth in protecting against HIV risk among transgender women. Journal of Health Psychology, 15(8), 1135–1144.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Graham, L. F. (2012). Psychosocial Health of Black Sexually Marginalized Men. Social Determinants of Health Among African-American Men, 63.Google Scholar
  27. Graham, L. F., & Padilla, M. B. (2013). Sexual rights for marginalized populations. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  28. Graham, L. F., Treadwell, H. M., & Braithwaite, K. (2008). Social policy, imperiled communities and HIV/AIDS transmission in prisons: a call for zero tolerance. Journal of Men’s Health, 5(4), 267–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Graham, L., Brown-Jeffy, S., Aronson, R., & Stephens, C. (2011). Critical race theory as theoretical framework and analysis tool for population health research. Critical Publication Health, 21(1), 81–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Grossman, A. H., & D’augelli, A. R. (2006). Transgender youth: Invisible and vulnerable. Journal of Homosexuality, 51(1), 111–128.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Keyes, K. M., & Hasin, D. S. (2009). State-level policies and psychiatric morbidity in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations. Journal Information, 99(12).Google Scholar
  32. Hatzenbuehler, M. L., McLaughlin, K. A., Keyes, K. M., & Hasin, D. S. (2010). The impact of institutional discrimination on psychiatric disorders in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: A prospective study. Journal Information, 100(3).Google Scholar
  33. Herbst, J. H., Jacobs, E. D., Finlayson, T. J., McKleroy, V. S., Neumann, M. S., & Crepaz, N. (2008). Estimating HIV prevalence and risk behaviors of transgender persons in the United States: A systematic review. AIDS and Behavior, 12(1), 1–17.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hirsch, B. J., & DuBois, D. L. (1992). The relation of peer social support and psychological symptomatology during the transition to junior high school: A two-year longitudinal analysis. American Journal of Community Psychology, 20(3), 333–347.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. House, J. S. (1981). Work stress and social support. Reading: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  36. House, J. S., Umberson, D., & Landis, K. R. (1988). Structures and processes of social support. Annual Review of Sociology, 14, 293–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hsia, H. M., Bridges, G. S., & McHale, R. (2004). Disproportionate minority confinement: 2002 update: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  38. Kellogg, T. A., Clements-Nolle, K., Dilley, J., Katz, M. H., & McFarland, W. (2001). Incidence of human immunodeficiency virus among male-to-female transgendered persons in San Francisco. JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 28(4), 380–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kornegay, E. (2004). Queering Black Homophobia: Black Theology as a Sexual Discourse of Transformation. Theology and Sexuality, 11(1), 29–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kosciw, J. G., & Diaz, E. M. (2006). The 2005 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Retrieved October 23, 2007.Google Scholar
  41. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., & Diaz, E. M. (2009). Who, what, where, when, and why: Demographic and ecological factors contributing to hostile school climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(7), 976–988.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kosciw, J. G., Palmer, N. A., Kull, R. M., & Greytak, E. A. (2013). The Effect of Negative School Climate on Academic Outcomes for LGBT Youth and the Role of In-School Supports. Journal of School Violence, 12(1), 45–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lang, A. J., Rodgers, C. S., Laffaye, C., Satz, L. E., Dresselhaus, T. R., & Stein, M. B. (2003). Sexual trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, and health behavior. Behavioral Medicine, 28(4), 150–158.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. LaRossa, R. (2005). Grounded theory methods and qualitative family research. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(4), 837–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lopez, W. D., Graham, L. F., Reardon, C., Reyes, A. M., Reyes, A., & Padilla, M. (2012). “No jobs, more crime. More jobs, less crime”: structural factors affecting the health of Latino men in Detroit. Journal of Men’s Health, 9(4), 255–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Love, P., Bock, M., Jannarone, A., & Richardson, P. (2005). Identity interaction: Exploring the spiritual experiences of lesbian and gay college students. Journal of College Student Development, 46(2), 193–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mallon, G. P., & DeCrescenzo, T. (2006). Transgender children and youth: a child welfare practice perspective. Child Welfare, 85(2), 215–241.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Manderson, L. (2012). Technologies of Sexuality. Routledge: Identity and Sexual Health.Google Scholar
  49. Marksamer, J. (2008). And by the way, do you know he thinks he’sa girl? The failures of law, policy and legal representation for transgender youth in juvenile delinquency courts. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 5(1), 72–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mayer, K. H., Bradford, J. B., Makadon, H. J., Stall, R., Goldhammer, H., & Landers, S. (2008). Sexual and gender minority health: what we know and what needs to be done. Journal Information, 98(6), 989–995.Google Scholar
  51. Melendez, R. M., Exner, T. A., Ehrhardt, A. A., Dodge, B., Remien, R. H., Rotheram-Borus, M.-J., et al. (2006). Health and health care among male-to-female transgender persons who are HIV positive. Journal Information, 96(6), 1034–1037.Google Scholar
  52. Mercier, L. R., & Berger, R. M. (1989). Social service needs of lesbian and gay adolescents: Telling it their way. Journal of Social Work & Human Sexuality, 8(1), 75–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Munoz-Plaza, C., Quinn, S. C., & Rounds, K. A. (2002). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students: Perceived social support in the high school environment. The High School Journal, 85(4), 52–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Nemoto, T., Operario, D., Keatley, J., Han, L., & Soma, T. (2004). HIV risk behaviors among male-to-female transgender persons of color in San Francisco. Journal Information, 94(7), 1193–1199.Google Scholar
  55. Nemoto, T., Operario, D., & Keatley, J. (2005a). Health and social services for male-to-female transgender persons of color in San Francisco. International Journal of Transgenderism, 8(2–3), 5–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nemoto, T., Operario, D., Keatley, J., Nguyen, H., & Sugano, E. (2005b). Promoting health for transgender women: Transgender Resources and Neighborhood Space (TRANS) program in San Francisco. Journal Information, 95(3), 382–384.Google Scholar
  57. Nemoto, T., Sausa, L. A., Operario, D., & Keatley, J. (2006). Need for HIV/AIDS education and intervention for MTF transgenders: responding to the challenge. Journal of Homosexuality, 51(1), 183–201.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Operario, D., Soma, T., & Underhill, K. (2008). Sex work and HIV status among transgender women: systematic review and meta-analysis. JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 48(1), 97–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., Tarakeshwar, N., & Hahn, J. (2004). Religious coping methods as predictors of psychological, physical and spiritual outcomes among medically ill elderly patients: A two-year longitudinal study. Journal of Health Psychology, 9(6), 713–730.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Park, C. L. (2006). Exploring relations among religiousness, meaning, and adjustment to lifetime and current stressful encounters in later life. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 19(1), 33–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Poe-Yamagata, E., & Jones, M. (2000). And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Minority Youth. Washington, D.C.: Youth Law Center.Google Scholar
  62. Rew, L., & Wong, Y. J. (2006). A systematic review of associations among religiosity/spirituality and adolescent health attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38(4), 433–442.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rhodes, J. E., Contreras, J. M., & Mangelsdorf, S. C. (1994). Natural mentor relationships among Latina adolescent mothers: Psychological adjustment, moderating processes, and the role of early parental acceptance. American Journal of Community Psychology, 22(2), 211–227.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Ridge, D., Minichiello, V., & Plummer, D. (1997). QUEER CONNECTIONS Community, “the Scene”, and an Epidemic. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 26(2), 146–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Russo, R. G. (2006). The Extent of Public Education Nondiscrimination Policy Protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students A National Study. Urban Education, 41(2), 115–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sanchez, N. F., Sanchez, J. P., & Danoff, A. (2009). Health care utilization, barriers to care, and hormone usage among male-to-female transgender persons in New York City. Journal Information, 99(4), 713–719.Google Scholar
  67. Satyanarayana, M. (2011). Detroit teen identified as burned homicide victim. Detroit Free Press. Detroit.
  68. Sausa, L. A., Keatley, J., & Operario, D. (2007). Perceived risks and benefits of sex work among transgender women of color in San Francisco. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(6), 768–777.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Schwartz-Shea, P. (2006). Judging Quality. In D. Yanow & P. Schwartz-Shea (Eds.), Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretative Turn (pp. 89–113). New York: ME Sharpe.Google Scholar
  70. Scott, L. D., Jr., Munson, M. R., McMillen, J. C., & Ollie, M. T. (2006). Religious involvement and its association to risk behaviors among older youth in foster care. American Journal of Community Psychology, 38(3–4), 223–236.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Semple, S. J., Strathdee, S. A., Zians, J., & Patterson, T. L. (2010). Life events and sexual risk among HIV-negative, heterosexual, methamphetamine users. Journal of Sex Research, 47(4), 355–363.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Shaw, T., & McDaniel, E. L. (2007). Whosoever Will“: Black Theology, Homosexuality, and the Black Political Church”.. The expanding boundaries of black, politics, 43–64.Google Scholar
  73. Singer, M. C., Erickson, P. I., Badiane, L., Diaz, R., Ortiz, D., Abraham, T., et al. (2006). Syndemics, sex and the city: understanding sexually transmitted diseases in social and cultural context. Social Science & Medicine, 63(8), 2010–2021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Sinha, J. W., Cnaan, R. A., & Gelles, R. J. (2007). Adolescent risk behaviors and religion: Findings from a national study. Journal of Adolescence, 30(2), 231–249.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Snyder, H. N., & Sickmund, M. (2006). Juvenile offenders and victims: 2006 national report. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  76. Solorzano, D. G., & Yosso, T. J. (2002). A critical race counterstory of race, racism, and affirmative action. Equity &Excellence in Education, 35(2), 155–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Stieglitz, K. A. (2010). Development, risk, and resilience of transgender youth. The Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care: JANAC, 21(3), 192.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. (1990). The basics of qualitative analysis: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  79. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Axial coding (pp. 123–142). Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory.Google Scholar
  80. Sullivan, C., Sommer, S., & Moff, J. (2001). Youth in the margins: A report on the unmet needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents in foster care. New York: Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.Google Scholar
  81. Thomas, L. E. (2004). Living stones in the household of God: The legacy and future of Black theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.Google Scholar
  82. Turner-Musa, J., & Lipscomb, L. S. (2007). Spirituality and social support on health behaviors of African American undergraduates. American Journal of Health Behavior, 31(5), 495–501.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. United States Census Bureau, (2010). Census shows black population has highest concentration in the South. U.S. Department of Commerce; Newsroom releases.
  84. Utrata, J. (2011). Youth Privilege Doing Age and Gender in Russia’s Single-Mother Families. Gender & Society, 25(5), 616–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Varas-Díaz, N., Neilands, T. B., Cintrón-Bou, F., Santos-Figueroa, A., Marzán-Rodríguez, M., & Marques, D. (2013). Religion and HIV/AIDS Stigma in Puerto Rico: A Cultural Challenge for Training Future Physicians. Journal of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (JIAPAC). doi: 10.7448/IAS.16.3.18670.Google Scholar
  86. Vitulli, E. (2010). A defining moment in civil rights history? The employment non-discrimination act, trans-inclusion, and homonormativity. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 7(3), 155–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Welfare, C. (2006). Putting the pieces together for queer youth: A model of integrated assessment of need and program planning. Child Welfare, 85, 2.Google Scholar
  88. Wilber, S., Caitlin, R., & Marksamer, J. (2006). CWLA Best Practice Guidelines. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.Google Scholar
  89. Wilson, E. C., Garofalo, R., Harris, R. D., Herrick, A., Martinez, M., Martinez, J., et al. (2009). Transgender female youth and sex work: HIV risk and a comparison of life factors related to engagement in sex work. AIDS and Behavior, 13(5), 902–913.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Woronoff, R., Estrada, R., Sommer, S., Marzullo, M. A., Defense, L. L., & Fund, E. (2006). Out of the margins: A report on regional listening forums highlighting the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth in care: Child Welfare League of America.Google Scholar
  91. Yakushko, O. (2005). Influence of social support, existential well-being, and stress over sexual orientation on self esteem of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 27(1), 131–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Yussen, S., & Ozcan, N. (1996). The development of knowledge about narratives. Issues in Education, 2(1), 1–68.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health SciencesAmherstUSA

Personalised recommendations