By Tessie Castillo

In 2015 Tori Cooper decided to leave a successful nonprofit career to blaze a trail advocating for the rights of the transgender community. Despite the fact that an estimated 1 million adults in the United States identify as transgender, services and advocacy programs that address the unique needs of this population can be hard to find. Cooper founded Advocates for Better Care Atlanta, an organization that focuses on economic and health equity for trans people.

“I just decided it was time to move things forward,” says Cooper, an African American trans woman from Georgia. “I realized that I might be the person and the agency that would be able to do the things that folks really need and want most.”

Cooper has her work cut out for her. According to a report released by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in 2015, the unemployment rate for trans people was 15 percent, triple the national rate, while the unemployment rate for trans people of color was 20 percent. Twenty-nine percent of trans respondents reported living in poverty, with 12 percent reporting an annual household income under $10,000.

Such economic and social stresses contribute to high rates of drug use among transgender people. According to the report, 29 percent of trans survey participants reported illicit drug use or prescription misuse in the past month, a rate nearly triple that of the US population (10 percent). This indicates a need for services, but unfortunately, few harm reduction programs are designed with trans folks in mind.