The XX Factor

Trans College Students Are More Likely to Attempt Suicide When Denied Bathroom Access

A federal court has said it’s against the law for a school to deny trans students gender-appropriate bathroom access.


Transgender college students are more likely to attempt suicide at some point in their lives if their schools do not offer them gender-appropriate bathroom and housing accommodations, according to a new report from Georgia State University.

Researcher Kristie Seelman, an assistant professor of social work, pulled the data from 2011’s landmark National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the largest-ever study of transgender people. That survey included 6,450 participants, 2,325 of whom attended college and identified as trans while they were there, making them eligible for Georgia State’s analysis.

Of those 2,325 trans people, 46.5 percent reported attempting suicide at some point in time, compared with 4.6 percent of the general U.S. population. Those who’d been denied gender-appropriate bathroom access or campus housing were at significantly higher risk for suicide: 60.5 percent and 60.6 percent, respectively, had attempted it.

Even after Seelman controlled for interpersonal victimization from other students and teachers, the difference remained. “Hostility, harassment, discrimination, invisibility, and marginalization are common experiences for transgender students,” she said in a statement. “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.”

The analysis, which was recently published in the Journal of Homosexuality, also indicates that nearly 25 percent of trans people who attended college say they’ve been denied access to bathrooms, asked to leave, stared at, or questioned about their gender and whether it matched the sign on the door. More than a fifth were blocked from housing that aligned with their genders. Many of those who’d experienced bathroom-related harassment said they tried to avoid having to use campus bathrooms, putting them at risk for kidney and urinary-tract infections.

The NTDS participants did not specify whether their suicide attempts occurred before, during, or after their time in college, so it’s impossible to say whether bathroom and housing troubles led to suicide attempts. But it’s hard to imagine how the reverse trend—that trans people who’ve attempted suicide are somehow more likely to be denied bathroom access—could explain a 14-point difference in suicide risk.

This new report comes on the heels of an encouraging step toward bathroom access and safety for trans people: On Tuesday, a federal court of appeals ruled that public schools cannot keep trans students from using the appropriate bathrooms because that constitutes sex discrimination. If they do, they’ll risk losing their Title IX funding. The decision confirms that North Carolina’s much-publicized anti-trans bathroom restrictions is in direct violation of federal law. Seelman’s analysis helps quantify the tangible, life-altering effects of being denied access to one of the most basic human needs. When that kind of discrimination is state-approved and codified across an entire state, its impact is gut-wrenching to imagine.