New Study Finds that Increasing Number of Teens Identify as Transgender and Gender Nonconforming

By Shane Stahl • February 5, 2018 • 3:24 pm

A new study out of Minnesota, published February 5 in Pediatrics Medical Journal, reveals that many more teens are identifying as transgender or gender nonconforming than previously thought.

The study surveyed approximately 81,000 Minnesota high school students in grades 9 and 11. According to the results, about 2,200 of the respondents — nearly 3 percent — identified as transgender or gender nonconforming; previous estimates estimated the number at around 0.7 percent.

“Diverse gender identities are more prevalent than people would expect,” said lead author Nic Rider, a University of Minnesota postdoctoral fellow who studies transgender health. “With growing trans visibility in the United States, some youth might find it safer to come out and talk about gender exploration.”

One notable finding in the study is that those who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming reported worse mental and physical health than other kids, similar to results in previous research. Bullying and discrimination are among possible reasons for the differences, Rider said, although the survey didn’t ask.

Dr. Daniel Shumer, a specialist in transgender medicine at the University of Michigan, wrote in an accompanying opinion article in Pediatrics that the study supports other research suggesting that earlier counts of the trans population, “…have been underestimated by orders of magnitude,” and that the higher numbers should serve as a lesson to schools and physicians to abandon limited views of gender.

“Youth are rejecting this binary thinking and are asking adults to keep up,” he wrote.

Rider said doctors should help transgender and gender nonconforming youth feel more comfortable about seeking health care; asking how they identify and if they’ve experienced bullying, discrimination or other victimization, “because this conveys competence, inclusivity, and caring.”

That advice is similar to American Academy of Pediatrics policy that says pediatricians should use gender-neutral terms and encourage teens to feel comfortable talking “about their emerging sexual identities.”

Many school districts across the country have taken steps to implement transgender-inclusive policies regarding, among other things, access to bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with a student’s gender identity. In 2016, the Obama administration released guidance to schools on how best to treat transgender students. However, in early 2017, newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump and his Department of Education rescinded the guidance. Several court cases brought by transgender students alleging discrimination have been successful, including that of Ash Whitaker in Wisconsin, who won $800,000 in a settlement after a lengthy battle.

The study’s findings make clear that transgender and gender nonconforming students are not being adequately served in school. Enforcing non-discrimination protections would allow students the feeling of safety and security while going about their daily lives in school.

The study is available to view here.

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