CDC: Nearly 2 percent of high school students identify as transgender and more than one-third of them attempt suicide

(Sarah Welliver | Standard-Examiner | The Associated Press) In this May 13, 2017, photo, volunteer Rachel Hager, center, helps set up for the LGBTQ Prom, at Herm's Inn in Logan, Utah. A first-ever prom for gay, lesbian and transgender students was held recently in Logan in an attempt to provide an event for students who might not have felt comfortable attending traditional proms at their high schools, the Standard-Examiner reported.

Nearly 2 percent of high school students in the United States identify as transgender, according to data published this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other data show:

  • 27 percent feel unsafe at school or traveling to or from campus.

  • 35 percent are bullied at school.

  • 35 percent attempt suicide.

Amit Paley, chief executive and executive director of the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, called the report’s findings “groundbreaking.”

"This is the first time we've had a federal government report of this magnitude showing that transgender youth exist in this country and in larger numbers than researchers had previously estimated," he said in an interview. The report, he said, shows "the very real health risks" transgender youth face in school.

Paley said the Trump administration has moved to “erase the identity of transgender youth.” The administration has rolled back or frozen Obama-era anti-discrimination rules aimed at protecting the LGBTQ community in health, education and other areas.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed President Donald Trump’s broad restrictions on transgender people serving in the military to go into effect while the policy is fought in lower courts. In 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' first major policy act was to support Trump’s decision to rescind the guidance protecting the right of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

The data published Thursday by the CDC comes from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 10 states and nine large urban school districts. The survey is conducted biennially among a representative sample of U.S. high school students in the ninth through 12th grades. The findings were published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, an epidemiological digest with public health information and recommendations sent to the CDC by state health departments.

In 2017, 10 states and nine urban school districts piloted a measure of transgender identity. The states were Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. The urban school districts included Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, the District, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Broward County, Florida.

The CDC said it pooled data from the 19 sites to assess the prevalence of transgender identity and the relationship between transgender identity and substance use, suicide risk, sexual risk behaviors and being a victim of violence. Transgender students were more likely to report substance use, suicide risk and being victims of violence, and, although more likely to report some sexual risk behaviors, they were also more likely to be tested for HIV infection, the CDC said.

"These findings indicate a need for intervention efforts to improve health outcomes among transgender youths," the report said.

Across the 19 sites, 94.4 percent of students responded, "No, I am not transgender"; 1.8 percent responded, "Yes, I am transgender"; 1.6 percent responded, "I am not sure if I am transgender"; and 2.1 percent responded "I do not know what this question is asking."

It has been difficult for health experts to determine the percentages of young people who identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming and estimates have ranged in recent years depending on the survey.

A 2018 report in the journal Pediatrics used a statewide survey of nearly 81,000 Minnesota ninth- and 11th-graders and found that nearly 3 percent identified as transgender or gender-nonconforming, meaning they do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. The authors of the study said their findings could be used to estimate numbers in those grades across the country.

A 2017 study by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles estimated that about 150,000 youth aged 13 to 17, or 0.7 percent, identify as transgender, and 0.6 percent of U.S. adults identify as such.