Written by Taleen Ananian
Spend just a few minutes talking to Jody Herman about her work, and you’ll notice that she gets fired up about numbers.
And for good reason: The data she’s gathered as part of her research on sexual orientation and gender identity — much of which simply hadn’t existed before — is now providing a foundation for policies that promote equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Herman is a scholar of public policy at the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. Her work is cited often during public policy discussions, including those about attempts to regulate which restrooms transgender people can use, and has been referenced by the U.S. Justice Department and by amicus briefs to the Supreme Court.
In January 2017, Herman and colleagues published the third in a series of groundbreaking reports on the demographics of transgender people in the United States. It concluded that 150,000 people between the ages of 13 and 17 — or one in every 137 — would be likely to identify themselves as transgender.
As somebody who believes in social science and research, I want to ensure public policy is informed by the best available data.
This data is significant because state and federal lawmakers often don’t know how many people might be affected by the policies they propose.
“As somebody who believes in social science and research, I want to ensure public policy is informed by the best available data,” Herman says. “And not by emotions or anecdotal evidence.”
Herman collaborated on the study with Williams Institute colleagues Andrew Flores, Taylor Brown, Bianca Wilson and Kerith Conron. Their task was considerably more challenging than typical demographic research, for which scholars can use existing data as a model. Because there had never previously been a comprehensive survey of transgender youth, the team developed its own sophisticated model based on data about transgender adults.
The Williams Institute, whose mission is to provide independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. It has become a go-to resource for judges, legislators, policymakers, advocates and news media.
At a contentious time for LGBT rights in the U.S., Herman plans to remain on the lookout for new opportunities to use the institute’s expertise, and to produce solid new data to advance the national discourse.
“What we are doing here is making a difference,” she says. “It’s all worthwhile, it’s necessary, and it’s personally rewarding.”