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Wednesday 24 May 2017


Quacking Noises: Family First and Transgender Suicide

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 12th February 2017

Once again, Family First has been caught 'cherry picking' when it comes to LGBT social and political issues.

It is now claiming that transgender suicide is a 'myth', in the wake of what it has interpreted as a lack of firm evidence that such rates went up in the context of the Trump presidential victory.
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Given that its boss Bob McCoskrie's tertiary qualifications are in the field of tax policy and accountancy, as opposed to medical and scientific research, he really should not pontificate on matters that are clearly beyond his expertise or competence. It was comparatively easy to find a rebuttal to this latest mendacity, which was co-authored by the Williams Institute and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2014. Suicide Attempts Amongst Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults (2014) was co-authored by Drs. Ann Haas, Phillip Rodgers and Jody Herman.

This report examined reported suicide attempts amongst participants in the US National Transgender Discrimination Survey, carried out by the US National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce and National Centre for Transgender Equality. However, note that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention consists of suicide prevention professionals and is a wholly independent agency in this context. In fact, while forty one percent of the participants reported suicide attempts, this may have been underestimated, as forty six percent of transmen and forty two percent of transwomen acknowledged such attempts, which is at odds with the five percent of overall US citizens and ten to twenty percent of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals who try to end their lives.

Troublingly, the report also testifies that younger (18-24 year olds: 45 percent), Native American (56 percent), lower educational attainment (48-49 percent) and earn less than $US 10,000 (54 percent) are at particular risk. Disclosure (50 percent), being out as transgender (42 percent) and transparency (46 percent) also occasion risks. HIV+ and disabled transpeople (45-55 percent) are also at particular risk, and those with mental illness have escalated risk beyond that (65 percent).

More bluntly, there were also escalated levels of risk amongst those who had experienced family rejection, employment or medical provider discrimination, harrassment at school or within the workplace, or physical assault and abuse by violent assailants, or by law enforcement officers. School harrassment discrimination or violence initiated 50-54 percent of suicide attempts, workplace discrimination and harrassment resulted in 50-59 percent of attempts and medical discrimination resulted in 60 percent of such attempts- probably attributable to the gatekeeper role of medical practitioners for further transitioning related to hormone treatment and reassignment surgery within the trans community.

As one might guess, there were higher levels of attempted suicide in cases where there was physical assault against the transperson participants- 64-65 percent amongst those at work and 64-78 percent against those at school. Disrespect from law enforcement professionals was also significant- 57-61 percent reported suicide attempts in this context, while those who reported physical or sexual abuse from law enforcement professionals reported 60-70 percent. Finally, transgender homeless people reported that 69 percent of those sampled had attempted suicide.

The report does have its limitations- some respondents may have interpreted self-harming behaviour as suicide attempts, there was only a single NCTE survey question related to attempted suicide, which made it difficult to ask further probing questions and levels of mental health status and sexual abuse history were not systematically evaluated. Convenience sampling may throw further questions about the efficacy of this study, as well as demographic discrepancies between attempted and completed suicide.

However, as the list of additional references below demonstrates, transgender suicide is not a 'myth', given the number of corroborating studies available in this context. While there is admittedly no current data available on the Trump presidential victory on transgender suicide, this does not mean transgender suicide is a myth. Moreover, given that vulnerability, discrimination and victimisation lead to suicide attempts in this context, transphobic political campaigns clearly seem to be costing lives.

Recommended:

Alan Haas, Philip Rodgers and Jody Herman:Suicide Attempts Amongst Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention/Williams Institute: 2014:http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf

K. Clements-Noll, R. Marx and M.Katz: "HIV prevalence, risk behaviours, healthcare use and mental health status of transgender persons: Implications for public health intervention" American Journal of Public Health: 91 (6): 2001: 915-921.


K. Clements-Noll and M.Katz: "Attempted suicide amongst transgender persons: The influence of gender based discrimination and victimisation" Journal of Homosexuality: 51 (3) (2006): 53-69.

A.H. Grossman and A.R.D'Augelli: "Transgender youth and life-threatening behaviours" Suicide and Life Threatening Behaviours: 37 (5) (2007): 527-537

G.P.Kenagay: "Transgender health: Findings from two needs assessment studies in Philadelphia" Health and Social Work: 30 (1) 19-26.

S.Maguen and J.Shipherd: "Suicide risk amongst transgender individuals" Psychology and Sexuality: 1 (1): (2007): 34-43.

Transgender Equality Network Ireland: Ireland's Trans Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey: (2012): http://www.teni.ie/suicide_in_trans_communities__new_evidence-from-the_mental_health__wellbeing_survey

S.Whittle, L.Turner, R.Combes and S.Rhodes: Transgender EuroStudy: Legal Survey and Focus on the Transgender Experience of Health Care: Brussels, Belgium and Berlin: ILGA Europe and Transgender Europe: (2008): http://www.tgeu.org/sites/default/files/eurostudy.pdf

J.Xavier, J.A.Honnold and J. Bradford: "The health, health-related needs and life experiences of transgender Virginians" Richmond: Virginia Department of Health: 2007.

Craig Young - 12th February 2017

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