Study Suggests Anti-Trans Parents May Literally Be Killing Their Kids

Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide after blogging about how her family rejected her identity.
Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide after blogging about how her family rejected her identity.

Rejection from family members seems to have a significant influence on the health of transgender people, a new study finds. Trans people whose spouses, parents, or children chose not to speak with them after transitioning experienced much higher rates of suicide attempts and substance abuse.

The study, conducted by researchers at the City University of New York, used data from the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), which found that 41 percent of respondents had attempted suicide, far above the national average — 1.6 percent of the general population. According to the new analysis, how trans people have been treated by their family was a significant factor for that outcome:

After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, having experienced high levels of family rejection was associated with almost three and half times the odds of suicide attempts and two and a half times the odds of substance misuse, compared to those who experienced little or no family rejection. Having experienced only moderate levels of family rejection was associated with almost twice the odds of suicide attempts and over 1.5 times the odds of substance misuse. These findings suggest the importance of investigating and addressing stigmatization experienced by transgender persons by close others, not only by broader society, structures, and systems.

The study qualifies that the rejection may be a direct factor in causing the negative health outcomes or may indirectly deprive transgender people of accessing the social support needed to buffer their stressors.

Still, the results jibe with a similar analysis of the NTDS, which found that discrimination was also a significant factor for suicide attempts, particularly for those who had experienced unemployment, homelessness, bullying and violence, health care discrimination, and extreme poverty. In fact, these factors may be linked, as those who did not have the support of their family were also found to experience unemployment and lower incomes at higher rates.

Sarit Golub, one of the researchers on the study, explained to Reuters Health, “For transgender or gender non-conforming individuals, this rejection is based on a failure to accept a fundamental part of that individual’s identity — what they feel to be their core self. We are saddened by these findings, and believe they are a call to action for those who work with and care about the transgender community.”

The results also further rebut the myth that transitioning itself contributes to transgender people’s negative health outcomes. Indeed, the research suggests that family acceptance may actually have a protective effect against these outcomes.