Hope for transgender youth when it seems the deck is stacked against them

Susan Messina

J7311 – Article

October 28, 2018

In any environment, transgender children and teenagers are at higher than average risk of bullying and harassment—in school as well as in their communities, in general. With the recent announcement of the Trump administration’s decision to move forward with defining gender narrowly as reported by the New York Times as “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” this vulnerable population faces not only the possibility of intensified bullying but also, as a result, an uptick in suicide attempts.

According to the Trevor Project, the nation’s largest and only accredited suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, federal and state policies have real and often unintended consequences, particularly now as the pending definition could justify removing protections currently provided by federal law. The group, which operates a full-time suicide hotline, notices a spike in call volume when governments take action that target the transgender community.

QUOTE. [Andy: The Trevor Project was a late addition and I haven’t heard back from them—the thing you cautioned against. I could easily jump to the next paragraph and pretend this didn’t happen—but the transition would be much stronger with a quote. I will continue to reach out to see if I am able to add this.]

The rise in suicidal ideation is not due, despite the claims of some, that transgender dysphoria, defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify,” is caused and possibly exacerbated by mental illness. Formerly classified as a mental illness (as was homosexuality until 1974), transgender dysphoria was declassified as such earlier this year. Rather, many members of the transgender community, particularly young people, experience distress or anxiety due to the reactions of and treatment by others who neither understand nor accept their sexual identities.

“I was distressed when I experienced invalidation, harassment, and rejection. I was distressed when I was closeted, trying to be something that I wasn’t,” reported blogger Sam Dylan Finch on letsqueerthingsup.com.

Transgender advocate and freelance journalist Dawn Ennis, concurs. “The pressure to conform—to be somebody you know you’re not—contributes to driving up the suicide rate.”

Paramount to the well being of LGBQT youth is feeling safe in school. However, with the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016, students and educators report an increase in the acts of intimidation, bias and violence at school, which some groups refer to as the #TrumpEffect. Relatedly, Pyschology Today reports that the Gay, Lesbian & Straight School Network (GLSEN) indicates that last year for the first time since 1999, when it began gathering data detailing the treatment of LGBQT students in schools, “there was no overall reduction in incidences of homophobic and transphobic harassment.” In fact, some forms of anti-LGBQT bias are on the rise.

School should be safe

Elizabeth J. Meyer, Ph.D., co-author of “Supporting Transgender and Gender Creative Youth: Schools, Families, and Communities in Action,” is associate dean of students and associate professor of educational foundations, policy, and practice, School of Education, University of Colorado, Boulder. In the same Psychology Today blog entry cited above, she says that 60 percent of LGBTQ youth report feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school, with many missing school and avoiding extracurricular activities because of it.

“If students don’t feel safe at school, they will not be able to focus on other important development functions such as health identity development and academic growth,” she said.

Providing trans students with what they need to succeed

There exist a number of accepted ways to support transgender young people in a way that promotes their overall physical and mental health. According to Matthew Oransky, Ph.D., director of psychology training, Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City, they need: 1.) Access to affordable, gender-affirming medical and mental health care; 2.) Better understanding among the general public about what it means to be transgender, so that the stigma and associated isolation are reduced; 3.) Role models among transgender adults who are leading healthy, fulfilling lives to help them envision their futures, alleviating suicidal thoughts.

 Above all, Oransky says, “They are more than their trans-ness. They are complete, complicated people just like everyone else with a lot going on in their lives.”

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