Bathroom Laws Can Play a Role in Suicide Attempts by Transgender Students, According to New Study
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on April 27, 2016 at 4:16 pm
Here’s a side of North Carolina’s so-called bathroom law that politicians may not have thought about: laws like it are playing a role in the suicides of transgender college students, according to a new study by Georgia State University.
North Carolina made headlines last month when it approved the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, or HB 2, in a closed-door session. Under the law, college students at state-funded schools are required to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. A transgender student who identified as being a man would still have to use the women’s bathroom and vice versa. The law, which supporters say is in North Carolina citizens’ best interests, was quickly denounced by many colleges, businesses, activists, and citizens, who called it discriminatory.
North Carolina is the first state to have such a law on its books, but that doesn’t mean other states haven’t tried. Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin all had similar legislation that failed to pass one way or the other. And critics of the bathroom bills argue that these can end up causing more harm than good for students around the country, both from a psychological and physical perspective. The recent study from Georgia State University attempted to quantify exactly how much harm.
Higher suicide attempt rates for transgender students denied gender-appropriate bathrooms, campus housing
“Hostility, harassment, discrimination, invisibility and marginalization are common experiences for transgender students,” said Kristie Seelman, assistant professor of social work at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, when announcing the research results. “The institutional and social supports that may contribute to their resilience, coping and academic success are often lacking. Taken altogether, these experiences often tear down their psychological well-being.”
Using data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), which polls more than 6,000 transgender adults, including more than 2,300 who self-identified as transgender while in college, Seelman set out to find out how denying access to bathrooms and gender-appropriate campus housing impacted the students. She discovered the rate of suicide attempts among transgender students who were denied access to gender-appropriate bathrooms or housing was 60.6 percent – much higher than the suicide attempt rate among transgender students overall, which based on the survey stands at an alarming 46.5 percent.
Transgender students have long been denied access to the bathrooms of the gender they identify with in schools around the country. Earlier this month, a U.S. Appeals Court in Virginia ruled in favor of a transgender high school student who sued for the right to use the men’s room at his school. However, the case was sent back to the lower court. The outcome will likely have a huge impact on the fight against transgender discrimination.
Transgender students face discrimination on college campuses
With the bathroom wars ongoing, Seelman said it’s not surprising, based on her research, that nearly a quarter of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey respondents reported being denied bathroom access or access to other campus facilities because they were transgender or gender non-conforming. In addition to outright discrimination, some of the negative experiences they faced included being questioned if they belonged in that bathroom, being stared at and even being asked to leave the facility. All of that weighs on their self-esteem, resiliency and self-confidence. In fact, bathroom access was reported to be one of the biggest challenges related to their experience on college campuses.
“We are at a crossroads in the rising public awareness of transgender identities and in examining the ways our institutions can be structured to keep these individuals safe from harm,” Seelman said in the statement. “Administrators who take steps to combat discrimination affecting transgender people and other marginalized groups are not only contributing to a safer climate, they are also communicating the institution’s commitment to inclusiveness and the development of a diverse campus population.”