Family and community support help trans youth buffer bullying and discrimination: study

Lockers in a school hallway. (Shutterstock)

A new report out of UBC shows that strong relationships and community involvement help trans and non-binary youth to cope with the still significant bullying and harassment they face.

The report analyzed data from the B.C. Adolescent Health Survey, which heard from 38,000 youth aged 12 to 19, nearly 1,000 of whom were trans, non-binary or gender-questioning.

Being subjected to violence and bullying is a significant issue for gender-diverse youth, notes the report. For example, eight out of 10 trans boys said they had experienced being bullied in the year before the survey was taken, and six out of 10 trans girls said the same. Seven out of 10 non-binary youth were also bullied, as were 65 per cent of those who were questioning their gender.

“The high rates of violence they report are concerning, because we know that young people who are bullied are at higher risk for extreme stress and other health problems,” said co-author Dr. Annie Smith in a statement.

The report also says that online harassment is significant, affecting about one in four trans girls and non-binary youth, and one in three trans boys.

“Overall, gender-diverse young people were one-and-a-half to six times more likely to report extreme stress in the past month than cisgender boys and girls. The levels of bullying and discrimination they face may partially explain some of the health differences we see for gender-diverse youth,” said Smith, who is the director of the McCreary Centre Society.

That said, the researchers found that the youth who feel “highly connected” to their school were more likely to report having good or excellent mental health, compared to those who lacked this sense of connectedness. These well-connected youth were also less likely to have experienced negative consequences due to substance use, or to have seriously considered or attempted suicide.

“Gender-diverse youth who reported greater feelings of family connectedness were much less likely to report extreme stress, suicidal thoughts and attempts, or problems with substance use, than young people whose families didn’t understand them or support them,” reads a news release on the research.

Lead author Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, a nursing professor who leads the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre (SARAVYC) at UBC, said she’s pleased the youth health survey was successful in collecting data on trans, non-binary and questioning youth.

“This is the first time that a large-scale population-based school health survey in Canada specifically captured the experiences of gender-diverse youth, who are typically invisible in surveys of this kind,” she said.

“With this study, we now have a more balanced picture of the health and well-being of gender-diverse youth. They are telling us that family and community support, and opportunities to fully participate in society make a difference for their health—even when they face stigma and discrimination.”