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Largest survey on trans people to launch in Chicago

Research in Cook County will ask 30,000 trans individuals about their experiences and needs

transgender study in chicago
A survey guide will be made available to organizations outside Chicago.

South Side LGBTQ center Brave Space Alliance has launched a first-of-its-kind community-centered research project in collaboration with Northwestern University. Called the Chicago Area Trans Survey (CATS), the project aims to be the largest single-population data set collected to date on trans people as a group and will produce research useful to community members and community-based organizations. 

The project will collect information from 30,000 trans individuals in Cook County on their experiences, needs and lives, which will provide trans people with data to back up requests for services and aid. 

"So much of our current knowledge about transgender communities in the U.S. comes from non-representative studies that are rarely led by trans scholars or community members,” said project collaborator Gregory Phillips II, assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern. “CATS represents a much-needed shift in the way research has been done — moving away from research on to research by and for trans individuals.” 

CATS extends a collaborative relationship between Brave Space Alliance (BSA) and Northwestern’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, a national leader in LGBTQ research. The Institute’s Evaluation, Data Integration and Technical Assistance (EDIT) program has extensive experience in local community-centered research and evaluation, as well as the study of population-level health disparities among LGBTQ groups. Phillips is director of EDIT.

The information collected by CATS will contain questions on sex and sexuality, how trans people define their families, where community members go for resources and how trans people engage in politics, among many other areas of inquiry. 

Upon completion of the survey, which will be administered by paid community leaders canvasing census-style in the field, a CATS Guide will be available free to other community-based organizations around the country. The guide will contain insights and instructions for trans-led organizations to conduct similar research in their own communities. 

“We want every small, trans-led organization in the country to be able to tell the stories of their community and have the numbers to back it up,” said LaSaia Wade, BSA founder and executive director. “National data isn’t good enough for organizations like BSA, because it doesn’t give us an accurate picture of what’s happening in our states, our cities, our neighborhoods. Trans people know if we want our truths heard, we have to tell the stories ourselves.”

BSA is seeking funding to support the survey as well as community members to serve on a CATS Community Advisory Board, slated to begin meeting in August.

CATS was inspired by BSA’s experience in struggling to obtain funding for the community center’s innovative programming due to a dearth of data attesting to the needs of the trans community. Particularly in Chicago, government offices have had difficulty obtaining quality, accurate information about trans communities; A 2017 report on LGBT Health by the Chicago Department of Public Health located only 45 trans respondents. 

In addition, existing data gives little to no information about the positive elements of trans lives.

“There is a significant lack of data on trans people, our lives, and how we live them,” said Stephanie Skora, BSA associate executive director. “And the data that does exist is either several years old or depressing. You learn more about the ways that trans people are discriminated against or killed than anything else about us. We hope this survey will finally provide trans residents of Chicago and Cook County with an accurate picture of their own community.” 

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