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Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPYS speech raised the disturbing disparities transgender people face

Caitlyn Jenner is a multimillionare whose public reveal as a transgender woman has been widely celebrated in the media. But most trans people aren't anywhere near as fortunate as Jenner — and while delivering her acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPYS on Wednesday, she seemed acutely aware of that.

"It's been eye-opening, inspiring, but also frightening," Jenner said of her experience during the past few months. Young transgender people are "learning that they're different, and they're trying to figure out how to handle that on top of every other problem a teenager has. They're getting bullied, they're getting beaten up, they're getting murdered, and they're committing suicide."

Jenner called on the ESPYS' assembled audience and viewers to help bring awareness to trans issues. "My plea to you tonight is to join me in making this one of your issues as well," she said. "How do we start? We start with education."

In particular, Jenner focused on some of the disparities trans people face. And she's right: In many ways, trans people are much worse off than other Americans.

Transgender and gender non-conforming people are nearly four times as likely to live in extreme poverty

It might be difficult for most people to fully understand the many hurdles that trans, gender non-conforming, and genderqueer people deal with on a daily basis. But they face huge disparities in nearly every aspect of society.

Families shun and even disown children over their gender identity and expression. Some people are denied jobs and homes because they don't conform to gender norms — which is legal for employers and landlords to do in 31 states. In social settings and media, trans people are commonly portrayed as purposely deceptive individuals and even sexual predators who want to trick or trap others into sleeping with them.

Here are a few more examples:

  • The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) found trans and gender non-conforming people are nearly four times as likely to live in extreme poverty as the general population.
  • NTDS found that 57 percent of trans and gender non-conforming people report family rejection. This rejection had precipitous effects: Trans and gender non-conforming people who are rejected by their families are nearly three times as likely to experience homelessness, 73 percent more likely to be incarcerated, and 59 percent more likely to attempt suicide, according to NTDS.
  • A 2013 report by the New York City Anti-Violence Project found that trans people, particularly trans women of color, face some of the highest rates of hate violence and murder in the country.
  • A 2014 study by the Williams Institute and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that 46 percent of trans men and 42 percent of trans women have attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with 4.6 percent of the general population.

The surveys and studies listed above concluded that these disparities are more pronounced among trans women of color, who can live within the convergence of transphobia, racism, and misogyny in the US. "The bodies of trans women of color are the site of multiple forms of deeply historical oppression," Chase Strangio, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT and AIDS Project, said earlier this year. "That's a critical part of understanding the violence against trans people."

In 2015 alone, at least nine transgender women, most of whom were racial minorities, have been murdered. For a segment that makes up less than 1 percent of the US population, the number of deaths has reached what activists are referring to as "a horrifying litany" and "an epidemic."

"The numbers that you just heard before are staggering," Jenner said during her ESPYS speech, referring to suicide statistics cited by professional soccer player Abby Wambach. "But they are the reality of what it's like to be trans today."

Many of these disparities are rooted in bigotry and ignorance — families who reject their transgender children, or employers who deny jobs to trans people simply because of their gender identity. By shining a light on trans issues, trans people like Jenner are trying to break through that prejudice.

Watch: Life as a transgender woman

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