STUDY: Discrimination May Be A Risk Factor For Transgender Suicide Attempts

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the largest study of transgender people’s experiences, found that 41 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide, a rate far higher than the national average of 4.6 percent. Now, an in-depth study of that result reveals how various aspects of anti-trans discrimination and stigma might be contributing to that high rate.

Here’s a look at some of the study’s results about what stressors may be putting transgender people at greater risk for suicide attempts:

  • Racial Stigma: Transgender people of color were more likely to have attempted suicide, particularly those who identified as multiracial (54 percent) or American Indian or Alaska Native (56 percent). White respondents reported the lowest rates (38 percent).
  • Poverty: The more financially stable respondents were, the less likely they were to attempt suicide. For those with an annual income less than $10,000, the suicide rate attempt was the highest (54 percent), with those making up to $20,000 close behind (53 percent). For those making over $100,000, the suicide attempt rate was half that (26 percent).
  • Unemployment: Inability to secure a job was also a significant factor. Transgender individuals who were unemployed but still trying to find work had the highest suicide attempt rates (50 percent), while those with jobs had a much lower rate (37 percent).
  • Education: Trans individuals who had more education were less likely to have attempted suicide, particularly those who completed college degrees. Those with a graduate degree reported a suicide attempt rate of 31 percent and those with a bachelor’s degree reported a rate of 33 percent. For those who had only graduated high school, the rate was 49 percent.
  • Outness: Suicide attempt rates were lowest among trans people who felt others could not perceive their identity (36 percent) and who didn’t tell others that they were trans (33 percent). Being totally out as trans (50 percent) or feeling like people perceived them as trans most of the time (45 percent) contributed to higher rates of suicide attempts.
  • Homelessness: Being denied housing for being transgender had a big impact on the likelihood of a suicide attempt. Those who experienced this kind of discrimination but found another place to live had a fairly high attempt rate (54 percent), but those who wound up homeless had an even higher rate (69 percent).
  • Bullying and Violence: Consistently across educational experiences (elementary school through college), harassment of various kinds contributed to higher suicide attempt rates. Individuals who reported having been physically assaulted or sexually assaulted reported extremely high rates, including 78 percent of individuals who were sexually assaulted while in college.
  • Family Rejection: The suicide attempt rates among those whose families supported them after coming out as trans was 33 percent, while those who experienced rejection from friends or family faced higher rates. For example, among those whose parents or other family members stopped speaking with them, the attempt rate was 57 percent.
  • Health Care Discrimination: Suicide attempt rates were higher among those who had a doctor that refused to treat them because of their gender identity (60 percent).

It’s important to note that nothing about being transgender or gender non-conforming causes suicidal thinking, nor do any of the above stigmatizing experiences. Still, the research suggests that anti-transgender rejection, discrimination, victimization, and violence are considerable risk factors, particularly when serious mental health conditions may already be present.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) nevertheless believes that LGBT nondiscrimination protections, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), are “unnecessary.” It remains legal in 33 states to discriminate against people for being transgender in both employment and housing. Not only is this discrimination clearly taking place, but its consequences are devastating.