ATLANTA—Transgender university and college students are at a significantly higher risk for suicide attempts when their campus experience includes being denied access to bathrooms and gender-appropriate campus housing, a Georgia State University study finds.
“An alarmingly high proportion of the transgender individuals participating in this study—46.5 percent—had a history of attempted suicide,” said Kristie Seelman, assistant professor of social work in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
The rate of attempted suicide was even higher among those who had been denied access to bathrooms (60.5 percent) or gender-appropriate campus housing (60.6 percent), which were significant differences, she said.
This risk holds true even after controlling for other forms of victimization, Seelman said.
“Hostility, harassment, discrimination, invisibility and marginalization are common experiences for transgender students,” Seelman said. “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.”
Seelman used data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), a study of more than 6,000 transgender adults, including more than 2,300 individuals who self-identified as transgender while in college, to study whether denial of access to bathrooms and gender-appropriate campus housing are related to a heightened risk for suicide attempts among transgender individuals.
Nearly a quarter of those in the NTDS who had attended college reported being denied access to bathrooms or other campus facilities due to being transgender or gender non-conforming. About a fifth of the total sample had been denied access to gender-appropriate campus housing.
The study was published recently in The Journal of Homosexuality.
Other studies have found that transgender individuals report bathroom access as one of their most pressing issues on campus. Their negative experiences include being questioned about whether they belong in the bathroom, being stared at and being denied access or told to leave.
Those targeted felt less safe and tried to avoid campus bathrooms, those studies reported. Being forced to wait longer to use a bathroom led to physical health consequences, including dehydration and kidney and urinary tract infections.
The research recommends institutions of higher education put policies and a network of faculty and staff in place to address harassment and victimization, provide access to safe, gender-appropriate bathroom and housing options, and establish well-funded, competent mental health services to meet transgender students’ needs.
“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. “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.”
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Seelman’s research focuses on improving social welfare services and education settings for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) people and addressing health disparities affecting these populations. She has studied transgender individuals’ experiences in higher education and in crisis services, the role of gay-straight alliances for LGBTQ youth and young adults, and health care planning decisions among LGB and same-gender-loving older adults.