We believe in equal access for all transgender people, and work hard to make everything we do as accessible as we can with the resources we have.
We’ve redesigned our website to improve accessibility
We did a lot of testing.
We carried out a complete website redesign.
We’ve updated header structures on our 48 pages and 220 posts, so that accessibility devices can tell what’s important on a page and what order to read things in.
We installed and adjusted a super accessibility-friendly main menu.
We’ve done heaps of titles and alt-text tagging on images, so a screen reader can tell a website user what the picture is for or what’s happening in the picture.
We’ve gone through and adjusted the contrast in areas where things were harder to see for people with low sight.
We’ve made many different elements work well for keyboard-only navigation.
We’ve changed the layout of most pages, so they won’t get messed up if the text size is increased by 200%.
We’ve removed our language translation widget and replaced it with a function which automatically detects the language your browser is using.
We’ve added a new accessibility menu.
What the accessibility menu allows website users to do
Easily switch to keyboard navigation rather than using a mouse.
Change to a dyslexia-friendly font.
Change the colour of the background and text.
Highlight all links on a page.
Invert the colours on a page.
Save the chosen settings for our website.
Clear those settings.
Our website does still need some work – it’s quite complex as far as rainbow organisation websites go. It contains a lot of information and different data structures, over 200 documents, and over 2,000 images. We also built it ourselves, and do all our own maintenance, so it does take time to learn how to fix something before fixing it. However, we’ll keep chipping away at it, and we won’t make the same accessibility mistakes in the future!
While transgender people make up about 1% of the general population, they make up at least 10% of the autistic population. Some studies suggest 23% or higher.
Studies also suggest that while autistic people make up around 5% of the general population, they make up 13% of the transgender population.
Autism diagnosis by gender
A 2018 study (linked below) shows autistic people’s responses across a range of issues, alongside responses from non-autistic people who have an autistic relative, and the responses of those who are neither autistic nor have autistic relatives (usually professionals who work with autistic people). It is not a representative study, but it is an enormous study by any research standards with over 11,000 respondents from across many different autism forums in several different countries.
1. Autistic respondents preferred the term “autistic person” (52%) rather than “person with autism” (12%). “Both” was selected by 28%, and “neither” was selected by 9%. In contrast, non-autistic respondents strongly preferred “person with autism”.
2. When asked if they identified as LGBT+, 7% of non-autistic respondents answered yes, while 38% of autistic respondents answered yes. 20% of respondents who said they might be autistic answered yes.
3. When asked if they were cisgender (not transgender), 17% of non autistic respondents replied no, while 23% of autistic respondents replied no.
4. There was a major correlation between being non-binary and being autistic.
5. Autistic respondents were more likely than non-autistic respondents to disagree with the statement “I have a religious faith”, and this was especially so for non-binary autistic respondents.
6. When asked if they agreed with the statement “I identify as liberal rather than conservative”, over 42% of autistic respondents strongly agreed, and over 20% agreed..
“Many autistic advocates prefer “identity-first” language (“autistic person” instead of [“person-first” language] “person with autism”). Our disability is part of us, and we don’t want to dance around it. And please — don’t call us “high functioning” or “low functioning.” If you don’t respect our language, you don’t respect us.” – AAPD
Studies have shown that autistic people are less likely to make decisions based on “what everyone else does” and are more likely to make decisions based on pragmatism. They often have a strong sense of fairness and social justice. This may partly explain the liberal (rather than conservative) tendency, and openness to exploring their gender and attractions in non-heteronormative ways.
Autistic young people
7. 84% of autistic respondents disagreed (74% strongly disagreed) with the statement “I am concerned about a link between vaccines and autism” while 62% of non-autistic respondents disagreed (47% strongly).
8. Most autistic respondents said their school didn’t know how to provide for them.
9. Almost half of the autistic respondents who struggled in school did not have an academic learning difficulty.
10. Most autistic respondents were strongly against ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy) for children.
11. Autistic respondents strongly believed that autism awareness focused too much on children.
While we don’t have data on autistic trans students in Aotearoa, we know that 23% of trans students experience weekly (or more frequent) bullying in schools, while this is experienced by just 5% of their cisgender counterparts. We also know that this bullying is often not addressed appropriately, and not dealt with effectively. There are schools which make it difficult for trans students to attend; including not providing bathrooms, insisting on inappropriate clothing (eg. wrong gender uniforms), and not making school content relevant for them (eg. sex education teaching only about cisgender boys and girls). We also know anecdotally that bullying and accessibility issues are common for autistic young people. We believe there is crossover here.
Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy on children is considered by many to be analogous with conversion therapy. It focuses on teaching autistic people to “not act autistic” through rewards and punishment. It has been alarmingly popular with non-autistic people for a long time, but autistic adults are now speaking out against it.
“The stated end goal of ABA is an autistic child who is ‘indistinguishable from their peers’—an autistic child who can pass as neurotypical. We don’t think that’s an acceptable goal. The end goal of all services, supports, interventions, and therapies an autistic child receives should be to support them in growing up into an autistic adult who is happy, healthy, and living a self-determined life.” – Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
12. 72% of autistic respondents would not take a “cure for autism” if one existed, and 14% said they would. Of non-verbal and selective mute autistic respondents, 75% said they would not take a “cure”, and 12% said they would. 69% of autistic respondents with learning difficulties said they would not take the “cure”, and 16% said they would.
13. 34% of non-autistic respondents said they would not give a “cure” to an autistic relative, and 41% said they would.
14. Respondents who had a positive association with autism – as represented by those who selected “awesomeness” as a characteristic of autism – were much more likely to be anti-cure, to say “autistic person”, and to be autistic (especially if they also had an autistic relative).
15. Almost three quarters of autistic respondents struggled with employment.
16. 75% of autistic respondents felt socially isolated.
Many non-autistic people believe that it would be better if autism didn’t exist. Autistic people disagree. Autistic lives are worth living, just like trans lives are worth living. Stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination are common, but it is these things – not autism – that autistic people would rather live without.
17. 60% of autistic respondents had an anxiety disorder, 42% had a Sensory Processing Disorder, 40% had depression, and 35% had ADHD, followed by digestive issues at 20%.
18. These conditions were consistently more common for non-binary autistic respondents (anxiety disorder 78%, depression 75%, ADHD 46%, digestive issues 40%). Non-binary autistic respondents had higher rates of Sensory Processing Disorders (56%) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (56%).
It is worth noting that male and female respondents were not separated by being transgender or cisgender, so it is possible that all transgender respondents had elevated rates of these conditions.
19. The most common effects of autism for non-binary autistic respondents were sensory issues (91%), anxiety (90%) and enthusiasm for special interests (90%).
Making environments accessible for autistic trans people means not only eliminating transphobia and providing appropriate bathrooms; but considering sensory needs, social stressors, and managing trauma triggers and responses.
20. Respondents were asked about empathy, and options included intense empathy, lack of empathy, both, and neither. Excluding the ‘both’ responses, 58% of autistic respondents ticked ‘intense empathy’, while only 11% ticked ‘lack of empathy’.
Including those who selected ‘both’, 67% had selected intense empathy. Responses were similar across non-verbal autistic respondents and autistic respondents with learning difficulties. Of the non-autistic respondents with an autistic relative, only 22% ticked intense empathy, while 27% ticked lack of empathy, and 47% selected ‘neither’.
Autistic respondents who are both non-verbal and have learning difficulties selected 60% intense empathy, 15% lack of empathy, 14% both, and 11% neither (a total of 74% intense empathy), while respondents who were non-autistic relatives of a non-verbal autistic person with a learning difficulty selected 51% neither, 32% lack of empathy, 13% intense empathy, and 3% both.
Autistic people are vastly more likely to feel intense empathy than a lack of empathy. But non-autistic relatives are likely to believe that they don’t feel intense empathy, and almost a third believe they lack empathy.
What it means
Autistic transgender people face unique challenges, and high levels of stigma and discrimination. Families, communities, and healthcare providers must be culturally competent and work to unlearn bias against autistic people, and recognise where this bias may affect the ways they interact with the autistic trans people they come into contact with.
GMA has a number of autistic transgender staff, and hears from many dozens of autistic trans people every year, who are struggling to access gender affirming healthcare at a disproportionate rate, and who are struggling with a lack of accessibility and safety in their schools, workplaces, and home environments.
It is common for autistic people to be denied gender affirming healthcare as their gender expression may not be binary, or because they may struggle to express or parents/clinicians may struggle to understand the autistic person’s complex ideas and understandings of gender. They may believe the autistic person is unable to fully understand the consequences of transition – most often due to difficulty with communication, rather than understanding. It is essential that a transgender diagnosis should not be withheld on the basis of a patient being autistic.
Further research is needed on autistic transgender experiences. GMA advocates for more research into autistic adults’ experiences, and for this to be developed by or in collaboration with autistic researchers and autistic populations, including those who are rainbow and transgender.
Gender Minorities Aotearoa undertook research in the Wellington region in late 2019, in order to gain understandings of the circumstances surrounding homelessness for transgender people; their experiences of it, the support services required to address it, and the housing aspirations of those experiencing it. This report details the findings of the research in which 43 participants contributed.
These participants are mostly European/Pākehā young adults and gender diverse. A large proportion of them have had relatively stable home environments as children, yet many of them have experienced situations of homelessness from an early age. All of the participants disclose that they have at least one health condition, with the three most prevalent conditions being: mental health condition, neuro-diversity, and disability. For most, employment opportunities and incomes are limited.
The participants tend to move housing within the same region; moving across regions seems to be less frequent. However, most of the participants change sleeping arrangements frequently, from every few weeks to every few months. This is due to a number of concurrent and compounding factors such as poor quality housing, temporary availability, unaffordability, and eviction. All of the participants have been able to sleep in safe and relatively long-term housing at some point over the past five years, however, about two-thirds of them have also experienced unsafe, temporary, or exposed forms of housing.
When describing safe, stable and long-term housing, the participants mention affordability and good quality housing as key criteria, as well as positive relationships with flatmates; in particular, flatmates who are not transphobic or sex worker phobic. The characteristics of the neighborhood are also important to consider (e.g. close to public transport and services). Finding appropriate housing is impacted by experiences of stigma and interpersonal prejudice, structural and systemic discrimination, potential changes to whānau composition, and limited financial capacity; necessitating moving frequently to try to improve one’s situation. To help in their search for suitable housing, the participants rely on their close networks such as friends and family, and the use of technology including social media and apps. Many also contact professional organisations or support services. A range of other strategies are used, including the provision of semi-commercial sexual services.
A number of recommendations are provided to help address some of the disparities highlighted in this research. They include an emphasis on prevention and better access to the welfare system, as well as the delivery of timely and integrated support services when people experience homelessness. Safety is a critical factor and needs to be reflected in the provision of temporary/emergency housing, as well as long-term housing (e.g. council and public housing aimed at trans and non-binary people). These need to be complemented by other actions to address disparities and assist people to sustain their housing. For example: reducing discrimination across education and employment in order to be able to afford rent; better access to appropriate healthcare services to enable trans people retain employment; and education campaigns to reduce stigma and discrimination.