Transgender Immigrants in California

January 2024

Using data from the California Health Interview Survey, this study explores the demographic, socioeconomic, and health characteristics of transgender adult immigrants in California.

Transgender immigrants comprise over one-quarter of the state’s adult transgender population.
Transgender immigrants are more likely to be older, people of color, married, and have children.
Twice as many transgender immigrants as cisgender immigrants report recent psychological distress.
Data Points
transgender immigrants live in the U.S.
transgender immigrants live in California

Executive Summary

Transgender people in the United States experience well-documented discrimination and stigma, which is associated with increased risk for violence and negative health and economic outcomes. Less is known about the needs and experiences of transgender immigrants due to gaps in public data collection systems. This study used data gathered between 2015 and 2021 on the annual California Health Interview Survey to better understand the characteristics of transgender adult immigrants in California. Information about U.S.-born transgender people and cisgender immigrants is presented to identify similarities and differences in the needs of these overlapping communities.

We estimate that there are 174,200 transgender immigrants in the United States, comprising 13% of the U.S. transgender population. We estimate that there are 41,000 transgender immigrants in California, comprising over one-quarter (26.8%) of California’s adult transgender population.

Compared to U.S.-born transgender people, transgender immigrants in California were more likely to be older, people of color, married, and have children. Transgender immigrants were like cisgender immigrants in many ways, including age, regions of origin, amount of time spent in the U.S., and the diversity of languages spoken at home. However, they were less likely to be heterosexual (straight), currently married, raising children, own homes, or live in Los Angeles. They also differed on English proficiency, with greater spoken language proficiency reported by transgender than cisgender immigrants. Transgender immigrants were like U.S.-born transgender people and cisgender immigrants on most indicators of economic well-being, health, and healthcare access.

Key Findings

  • Half (50.0%) of transgender immigrants were ages 50 and up, compared to 13.9% of U.S.-born transgender people.
  • Women represented a majority (43.4%) of transgender immigrants; 26.5% were men, and one-third (30.1%) selected transgender as their gender identity.
  • A little over half (52.7%) of transgender immigrants identified as heterosexual (straight), 24.9% identified as bisexual, 9.5% as gay/lesbian, and 12.9% indicated that they were not sexual, identified in some other way, or didn’t know how to answer the question.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72.2%) of transgender immigrants were people of color compared to just over half (52.0%) of U.S.-born transgender people.
  • Transgender immigrants reported their race-ethnicity as Latinx (37.6%) or non-Hispanic Asian (33.4%) or White (27.8%). A small percentage (1.2%) were non-Hispanic Black, multi-racial, or another race.
  • Fewer transgender immigrants were married than cisgender immigrants (30.6% vs. 60.7%, respectively), but more were married than U.S.-born transgender people (12.5%).
  • Transgender immigrants were represented in all areas of California. Most transgender immigrants reported living in the Greater Bay Area (42.3%) or Southern California, other than Los Angeles (32.3%). Transgender immigrants were less likely than cisgender immigrants to live in Los Angeles (12.8% vs. 33.0%).
  • Most transgender immigrants reported being born in one of three regions: Asia and the Pacific Islands (36.9%), Mexico (26.6%), and Europe (18.9%). Another 11.2% were born in Central America (8.9%) or elsewhere in Latin America (2.3%).
  • Most (82.5%) transgender immigrants had lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years.
  • Less than a quarter (19.8%) of transgender immigrant respondents reported that they spoke only English at home. Fewer transgender immigrants said that they did not speak English well or at all compared to cisgender immigrants (10.5% vs. 36.8%).
  • Almost half (47.4%) of transgender immigrants had a high school degree or less formal education, 24.9% had an associate degree or some college, and 27.7% had a bachelor’s degree or more.
  • The majority (79.5%) of transgender immigrants were in the workforce; of these, just over half (53.6%) were employed by private companies or nonprofits, and 38.7% were self-employed.
  • Approximately one in four (26.5%) transgender immigrants were living in poverty (earning less than $12,784 for a one-person household in 2018).
  • Among people living below 200% of the federal poverty level, more transgender immigrants received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) than cisgender immigrants (29.6% vs. 9.9%).
  • More than two-thirds (68.0%) of transgender immigrants were renting housing. Fewer transgender than cisgender immigrants owned homes (26.4% vs. 47.9%).
  • Almost one-third (32.6%) of transgender immigrants reported poor or fair health.
  • Psychological distress in the past 30 days impacted 11.5% of transgender immigrants, 4.5% of cisgender immigrants, and was the most prevalent (34.5%) among U.S.-born transgender people, who were also the youngest group.

These findings suggest that organizations serving immigrant communities in California should ensure that services are inclusive of transgender people, including those who are older adults, sexual minorities, people of color, people who are single, married, and in relationships other than marriage, and people who have children. Findings also highlight a need for mental health services and services for those who are low-income, at risk of housing insecurity, or have disabilities. Finally, more research on transgender immigrants is needed, including research with large enough samples to examine the socioeconomic and health characteristics of those who are authorized to be in the U.S. compared to those who are not and to examine differences by gender identity and race-ethnicity. In particular, more research is needed on older transgender immigrants and those who are Asian.

Download the full report

Transgender Immigrants in California