Campus research shows transgender and gender-fluid teens face higher rates of abuse than gender-conforming peers

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UC Berkeley researchers have released a study that found transgender and gender-fluid teens face up to three times more mental and physical abuse than their gender-conforming peers.

Paul Sterzing, lead author of the study and campus social welfare assistant professor, said one of the intentions behind the research was to identify the most vulnerable groups of teens within the LGBTQ+ community, which he said historically have been “lumped” into one undifferentiated group. The study found that overall, school-based bullying was the most common form of aggression faced by transgender and gender-fluid teens, whereas transgender girls experienced the highest rates of cyberbullying and gender-fluid teens born male reported the most cases of sexual violence.

The study took a large national sample of sexual- and gender-minority teens between the ages of 14 to 19 and measured 40 forms of victimization, including physical and sexual assault, bullying and child abuse. Nationally, about 20 percent of gender-conforming, straight teens were poly-victimized every year. Thirty-three percent of teen cisgender boys who identified as gay or other sexual minorities and 35 percent of cis-gender teen girls who identified as lesbian or other sexual minorities were poly-victimized, according to the study.

The study also found that 50 to 70 percent of transgender and gender-fluid teens experienced 10 or more unique forms of violence in the last year. Transgender males were over three times more likely to be poly-victimized in the last year in comparison to their straight peers, Sterzing said in an email.

“This research supports what most of us see on the ground,” said Juana Maria Rodriguez, campus gender and women’s studies professor, in an email. “These micro-aggressions add up in daily life when something as essential as having to use the restroom becomes an anxiety producing experience.”

The study looked at family dynamics within the teens’ households and how they might increase their risk to become poly-victimized.

According to Sterzing, teens who experienced “subtle forms of rejection,” such as environmental micro-aggressions, reported higher rates of poly-victimization.

The study found that different types of violence can take place in multiple distinct areas of a child’s life, including the internet, school and their community. Sterzling said “some kids lack a safe-harbor” from aggressions.

Last year, the Obama administration issued a bathroom protocol to protect transgender students by banning sex discrimination in schools. President Donald Trump, however, recently repealed the guidelines protecting for transgender students access to bathrooms.

Briana McGeough, a campus social welfare graduate student, said she thinks that “environment and context matter” in relation to victimization of LGBTQ+ youth. She added that during her time as an activist for transgender men and women there was very little research proving what she instinctively knew about victimization based on personal experiences and experiences with people close to her.

“(This study) helps activists to communicate why this work is important,” McGeough said.

Contact Ahna Straube at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @akstraube.