UMN Study: Nearly 3% of Minnesota High School Students Identify as Transgender/Gender Nonconforming

Thursday, July 27, 2017

For the first time, UMN research has documented the prevalence of Minnesota high school students who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming (TGNC) according to a study from the University of Minnesota Medical School. The study also shows significant health disparities between TGNC students and their peers in the areas of mental health, suicide ideation and substance use. 

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health is the first large-scale population-based study of TGNC youth. Until now, large datasets regarding risk behaviors and well-being of TGNC youth were nonexistent. “We wanted to fill in this big gap in our knowledge base in order to guide educators, community organizations, health care providers, policy makers, families and others in supporting this vulnerable group of adolescents,” said lead author Marla Eisenberg, ScD, MPH.

According to the data, 2.7 percent of study participants identified as TGNC. That’s a higher percentage than any previous study has found. Eisenberg also notes those who identified as TGNC came from various racial/ethnic backgrounds, and economic backgrounds.  Students throughout Minnesota were as likely as Metro Twin Cities students to identify as TGNC. According to Eisenberg: “TGNC youth are everywhere, so support for these young people needs to come from everywhere.”

The study analyzed data from the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, which included 81,855 responses of ninth and eleventh graders. Responses were compiled to compare TGNC youth to cisgender youth, those whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex, as well as those that identified as TGNC assigned female at birth to TGNC assigned male at birth. The prevalence of TGNC identification, health risk behaviors, and protective factors were analyzed across categories.

Risk behaviors were assessed by responses to questions relating to substance use, sexual behavior, emotional distress, and bullying victimization. Results showed TGNC youth had higher exposure to these risk behaviors than cisgender youth across the board.

Most notably, nearly two-thirds of TGNC responders reported they had experienced suicidal thoughts, a rate three times higher than the cisgender population.

In addition to the high prevalence of risk behaviors, the study showed TGNC youth had significantly lower rates of protective factors such as internal assets, family connectedness, teacher-student relationships, and feeling safe in one’s own community than cisgender youth.

That being said, the majority of TGNC youth did report they were able to communicate with their parents at least occasionally, felt support from teachers, and possessed internal strengths they could utilize.

“These protective factors have been shown to buffer young people against poor outcomes,” said Eisenberg. “This suggests many viable avenues for bolstering support of these youth.” 

Funding for this project was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health (R21HD088757). Data from the Minnesota Student Survey is managed by the Minnesota Student Survey Interagency Team and provided by Minnesota public school students by way of local public school districts.

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About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. Visit med.umn.edu to learn how the University of Minnesota is innovating all aspects of medicine.