Why This Study About Trans Teens Matters So Much

While it's true that we still have a long way to go for LGBTQ rights, the good news is that we've taken a lot of strides forward in the past couple of years. As a community, we've made progress in terms of same-sex marriage legalization and employment protections, and the discussion about gender identity and transgender protections is more alive than ever. And now, the largest ever study of transgender teens is about to begin, which is amazing.

The study, which is founded through the National Institute of Health (NIH), will begin recruiting participants in May of 2016. Researchers hope to recruit 280 teenagers who identify as transgender. Once selected, half of the participants will receive a hormone which prevents puberty at the beginning of adolescence, while the other half will receive a cross-sex hormone. The study will follow these participants for five years. The goal here is to help medical professionals best determine how to help transgender adolescents who are seeking a transition.

Why is it so important to collect this data? To start, there's a lot of misinformation about the transgender community in the media. Heck, the misinformation can go beyond the media representation, which is actually terrifying: It can affect the way doctors interact with transgender patients, the way police respond to domestic violence situations, and people's abilities to find a safe home.

For transgender youth, the stakes are also painfully high. A national survey from GLSEN shows that 75 percent of transgender youth report feeling unsafe at school because of their gender identity. Of those 75 percent, students were less likely to maintain high GPAs, more likely to be absent, and less likely to plan for their educational futures. Studies from the same source report that 59 percent of transgender students were denied access to bathrooms which align with their gender identity.

And it doesn't stop there. 44 percent of transgender youth report being physically assaulted at school, while 67 percent report being bulled online. Over 60 percent report having their property destroyed or stolen. Studies show that transgender youth are at a higher risk for mental illness, including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm. Sadly, 50 percent of transgender youth report attempting suicide at least once before the age of 20. Without understanding what avenues for treatment are available and which will be most beneficial for each individual, all of these effects and more will continue to mount up — which is why this study is so important.

Researchers hope that long-term studies on transgender youth can help medical professionals better understand how best to treat their transgender patients. Findings from this study (and hopefully, more like it) will benot only useful in schools and communities, but, I would argue, essential as we move toward a more progressive and inclusive society. While the momentum we've made in some aspects of LGBTQ rights is wonderful, it's imperative not to leave members of our community behind. This study will go a long way towards including everyone — and hopefully setting the stage for more to come.

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