Including the option to identify as “transgender” on Dane County’s 2012 Youth Assessment provided insight into mental health correlations and showed needs for guidelines that actively support transgender students in the community.
Brian Juchems, director of programs at the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools, said it was one of the few surveys that allowed for students to identify as transgender. Transgender youth are more likely to report having mental health problems when compared with non-transgender peers, he said.
Juchems said the results of the survey were that 1.5 percent of Dane County high school students identify as transgender, or about 239 students. The numbers were not surprising and were in line with some national surveys of transgender adults, he said.
Sixty-two percent of transgender youth reported having no long-term mental health problems compared with 78 percent of non-transgender students, Juchems said.
Thirteen percent of transgender students reported having depression compared to 10 percent of cisgender respondents, and 14 percent have other mental health conditions, not including attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder compared with 2 percent of non-transgender youth, Juchems said.
“That’s not surprising when I look at some of the other data, I would say most transgender students in Dane County experience some sort of rejection from family and school peers,” Juchems said.
Juchems also said the mental health issues are not shocking considering the daily stigma and minority pressures of transgender identification.
Steve Starkey, executive director of OutReach, Madison and South Central Wisconsin’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, said there are various challenges that transgender youth face that also result in disparities among homeless youth.
Starkey said the teen homeless rate in the U.S. is between 25 and 50 percent LGBTQ. This is a major disparity, considering the transgender youth population is much smaller, he said.
One reason for this disparity could be the issue of negative reactions some families have to discovering their child is LGBTQ, he said. Prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse are sometimes problems transgender encounter when they have nowhere else to turn, he said.
“Because they’ve left home, they don’t have resources, they don’t have a job and they don’t have money, prostitution is sometimes the only avenue they have,” Starkey said. “If they weren’t involved in drugs and alcohol at home, couch surfing and becoming involved in prostitution leads them to get involved.”
GSAFE works with students, educators, parents and community members to make schools more accepting for all students, especially LGBTQ students.
Juchems said GSAFE is collaborating with the Madison School District to launch a leadership class for youth of color that is looking at social justice with and LGBTQ lens.
“The work we do takes the form of helping students in gay-straight alliances to help them create a safe place in their schools, as well as to help their efforts to make schools more inclusive and safer,” Juchems said.
GSAFE also has a program called GEST, a support and leadership group particularly for high school transgendered students in the Dane County area, Juchems said. GSAFE also supports another group called Youth Empowered in the Struggle that looks at the achievement and education gap in Madison for students of color and LGBTQ students, he said.