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Transgender youth: Breaking down the challenges

By Judy Myers, Extension Educator — Children, Youth & Family ConsortiumExtension Center for Family Development

This post first appeared in Family Matters, the newsletter of the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Family Development.

Imagine that you are an adolescent who feels unsafe everywhere you turn — at home, at school, and in your community. This is the situation for many transgender youth who are at higher risks for homelessness, abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and suicide than other gender nonconforming young people.

What are the physical and mental health risks that transgender youth confront and how “big” of an issue is this?

The Challenges

According to a small sampling of recent community-wide surveys of homelessness in Minnesota youth, rates of homelessness ranges from 12 to 35 percent among LGB youth. As many as 7 percent of these youth identify as transgender (National Alliance to End Homelessness). On a larger scale, national estimates indicate that more than nine million people identify as LGBT, roughly the population of the state of New Jersey.

The national or state statistics of transgender youth are less available because data is less reliable; adolescents who depend on parental care may choose to remain “closeted” until they are older. This puts youth at risk of resorting to high-risk behaviors to obtain puberty suppressant medication, such as engaging in survival sex, i.e., trading sex for cash or shelter.

Transgender youth report higher rates of bullying and physical abuse than their lesbian, gay, and bisexual peers (as well as their heterosexual peers), and they represent higher numbers of homelessness. Unfortunately, standard homeless shelters are too often unsafe harbors for transgender youth, who are often assaulted and suffer discrimination. What’s more, there’s a shortage of specialized shelters with trained and supportive staff for transgender youth because of lack of funding. All this means transgender youth are at great risk of engaging in survival sex.

School is especially challenging for transgender youth because of a lack of effective anti-bullying interventions, safe bathroom and locker room facilities, and student clubs such as those sponsored by the Gay Straight-Alliance Network. When schools lack these resources and supports, transgender youth report higher incidences of physical attacks from peers and they experience poorer academic performance and higher dropout rates than their heterosexual peers. As a result, transgender youth experience all the problems that any high school dropout would, including few employment opportunities and high rates of criminal actions, such as drug and alcohol abuse.

Extension's Response

The challenges of homelessness, poor health and nutrition, abuse, and lack of necessary resources that transgender youth encounter too often is a topic that deserves opportunities to build knowledge that empowers and supports youth and families. This is why the Children, Youth & Family Consortium (CYFC) is taking Lessons from the Field on the road over the coming months.

These regional Lessons from the Field discussions are intended for parents, educators, and professionals who work with families and youth. If you live or work in the Andover region, please join us January 24. Sign up for the CYFC Monthly for details on the Andover seminar, as well as dates and details on the Bemidji, Morris, and Minneapolis visits.

Learn more information about CYFC's work related to transgender youth.

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