Transgender Ridicule: Models to 'Saturday Night Live' Sketches

First survey of transgender Americans shows widespread discrimination.

Feb. 1, 2011— -- It wasn't Owen Smith's short stature that got him in trouble with his 6-foot, 1-inch boss.

Smith, 28, was born a woman, but was in the process of transitioning to a man. He worked at a coffee shop in Maryland, where his boss, he said, was not sympathetic.

"He called me he-she and other inappropriate things in front of my co-workers and customers," said Smith. "He'd yell it across the coffee shop. It got so bad he got physically violent," he said. "He shoved me into a refrigerator."

A first-ever report that will be made public this week paints a bleak picture of life as a transgender person in the United States.

The survey, "Injustice at Every Turn," says discrimination is pervasive. Most respondents said they lived in extreme poverty, and many reported attempting suicide.

The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force surveyed 6,450 -- those who were transgendered or non-gender conforming.

They revealed harassment in education, employment, housing and health care, as well as in the government and prison systems.

The report concluded that "nearly every system and institution" in the United States discriminated against the transgendered.

Transgender people are becoming a more visible segment of the population and have triggered a national conversation about fair and equal treatment.

Just this week LGBT groups have asked for an apology from NBC's "Saturday Night Live" for airing a mock ad for ad for "Estro-Maxx," ridiculing transgender women.

The fake commercial for estrogen replacement therapy showed men with facial hair wearing dresses.

"Dehumanizing, holding people up for ridicule simply on the basis of their identity, fuels a dangerous and hurtful climate and puts people in danger, especially given how infrequently the media shines a fair and accurate light on the lives of transgender people," responded the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)."

Smith said he was also appalled, though not surprised.

"It's a really good example of how the mainstream views transgendered people as a joke they can make fun of," he said.

"It's hard to come out and to start being the public person you know you are," he said.

Transgender Models Lea T Kisses Kate Moss

But not all the imagery of transsexuals has been blatantly negative.

Brazilian model Lea T. -- a transgender woman who was born male -- was seen this week on the cover of Love magazine kissing supermodel Kate Moss .

Smith applauded the cover as an "open door for a transgender person to step forward."

"People know more transgender people than they think," he said. "These people may be a little different but they are still human."

Lea T was also in Riccardo Tisci's fall 2010 campaign for Givenchy and was profiled in Vogue Paris. She will reportedly make an appearance on "Oprah" in February, according to

Lea T is not the first. In 2008, the television show "America's Next Top Model" featured Isis, a transgender woman, which drew praise from GLAAD.

Another recent example was a Gaultier spring ad with male model Andrej Pejic kissing his female doppelganger, Karolina Kurkova.

"The fashion industry has always been really excited by and ready to support androgynous models," said Connie Wang, global editor at fashion website, Refinery 29. "So Lea T's omnipresence right now in the modeling community is not so surprising. However, the fact that she is transgender and that she does it so elegantly is noteworthy, and that's why you're seeing so many industry publications talking about her."

She said the move was not meant to shock, but to "titillate fashion insiders who are used to seeing Lea in very classic and austere Givenchy ads."

The magazine cover also coincides with accolades for the film "Becoming Chaz," which was a highlight of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah last week and will air on Oprah's new OWN network.

Born the cute blond-haired daughter of '60s singing sensation Sonny and Cher, Chaz was a male trapped in a female body and chronicles her years of gender confusion.

Smith had a similar struggle in a woman's body, preferring G.I. Joes to Barbie dolls.

"I remember being 5 and thinking I was going to grow up and be a man," he said. "Then I was told that wasn't going to happen."

Transgendered Face Bullying, Discrimination

His parents were supportive, but it was hard to break out of what society had ingrained in him. He began taking a male identity in high school, but faced bullying and discrimination.

"It was hard enough being a masculine-looking woman," he said.

Smith retreated to the closet, but eventually transitioned to being a man with hormone treatments. Soon, he will have his breasts removed, but no more surgery.

Now, he works full-time for the group Equality Maryland, which is pushing a bill to guarantee housing and employment protections for people who are transgendered.

"The transgendered community should be able to live without fear of awful things happening, like losing a job or becoming homeless," he said.

The survey of transgendered Americans that will be made public Friday also cited barriers to receiving updated documents for new gender after sex reassignment surgery and abuse by police and prison staff..

"Medical providers and health systems, government agencies, families, businesses and employers, schools and colleges, police departments, jail and prison systems -- each is failing daily in its obligation to serve transgender and non-gender-conforming people, instead subjecting them to mistreatment ranging from commonplace disrespect to outright violence, abuse and the denial of human dignity," said the report.

The consequences are "human and real, ranging from unemployment and homelessness to illness and death," it concluded.

The groups made a "call to action" to put a stop to the ridicule and abuse.

"What all these things show is how bad things are and how strong trans people are," said Mara Keisling, executive director of National Center for Transgender Equality.

"Lea T would be willing to be out there as a pioneer, knowing that everybody is talking about her," she said.