Students’ transgender discrimination research goes national

By University Communications
November 10, 2016
Coltan Schoenike, middle, and Markell Jurek, right, recently had their research on transgender discrimination and poverty published in Family Focus magazine. Assistant Professor Amanda Barnett, left, advised and helped them submit their findings.

Photo: Coltan Schoenike, middle, and Markell Jurek, right, recently had
their research on transgender discrimination and poverty published in
Family Focus magazine. Assistant Professor Amanda Barnett, left,
advised and helped them submit their findings.

The findings of their research on transgender discrimination and poverty stunned them. The two undergraduate student authors were even more surprised when they were chosen to present their findings at a national conference and their work was published in a national publication.

Coltan Schoenike, of Omro, and Markell Jurek, of Bloomington, Minn., are hopeful about the potential footprint their research could make after being published in the fall 2016 issue of Family Focus, published by the National Council on Family Relations. The human development and family studies majors conducted the research in fall 2015 in the Family Resource Management class taught by Assistant Professor Amanda Barnett. It was accepted for presentation at the Groves Conference on Marriage and Family in August 2016 in Denver.

Schoenike, Jurek and their team members scrutinized recent studies to discover barriers in the workplace, education and health care that contributed to poverty rates among transgender individuals. Among their findings:

• Transgender people were four times more likely than nontransgender peers to have a household income of less than $10,000 a year.

• Less than half of U.S. states have laws protecting transgender workers from employment discrimination based on gender identity. In states without such protections, transgender employees can be legally fired or denied raises or promotions.

• Transgender students were more likely to be placed, often incorrectly, in special education courses, were more likely to be pushed by a peer, had higher truancy rates and were more likely to have less adult social support at school.

• Transgender patients reported being denied health insurance coverage and experiencing discrimination and harassment when seeking medical care. In one study, 20 percent of transgender patients under age 35 experienced discrimination in emergency rooms, 14 percent when trying to receive mental health care and 8 percent when communicating with EMTs.

“I’ve been doing work with LGBTQ identity for years and studied the topic ever since I’ve come to college here, but I never grasped how drastic it was — like the $10,000 income statistic or how many people are discriminated against in health care,” Schoenike said. “It’s dark; it’s really dark.”

“I was blown away by the $10,000 a year finding,” said Jurek, who was involved in her high school’s gender and sexual alliance organization and feels strongly about human rights. “It’s absurd.”

The students’ article in Family Focus asserts that discrimination in the workplace, education and health care contributes to poverty rates among transgender people. Being denied a deserved promotion or getting fired diminishes income. Difficulties in completing a quality education can significantly limit earning ability. Being unable to afford or access health care affects work performance and attendance. 

“That was the whole point of our research: how the areas intersect into each other and with the poverty they face; how they create that poverty and perpetuate that poverty,” Schoenike said.

It’s the first time either student has had work published, an experience that’s more common for graduate students. Barnett, their professor, alerted them of the call for gender identity research presentations at the Denver conference and later Family Focus’ call for articles on human rights.

“When the call for presentations came up, they were in the middle of their course project. It was very high quality already, and it wasn’t even to the end,” Barnett said.

When finished, it was definitely high caliber for a conference presentation and was accepted. On the heels of that came the acceptance for Family Focus. “It was meant to be,” Barnett said. 

Disbelief was the students’ initial reaction to joining the ranks of published researchers.

“It’s something I never thought I would do,” Jurek said. “It’s really cool. It’s more about the fact that this is out there, in a magazine that hopefully people are going to read and learn from, which is even more important.”

“Markell and I didn’t think this was going to happen,” Schoenike said. “Getting to advocate for — especially as a trans person — my community is such an empowering experience.

“Compared to a journal, this is a lot more accessible to people because of the style and format of the article. This information is so necessary.”

The students want their findings to raise awareness of the issues and inform legislators. 

“I truly think that our research is one big call to action,” Schoenike said. “What we wanted to accomplish is: Let’s look at this poverty and the intrinsic cycle and make the policy change that we’re suggesting. We need changes at this level.”

For a copy of the students’ published article, contact Barnett at For information on UW-Stout’s B.S. in human development and family studies, visit