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Study shows link between discrimination, transgender suicide attempts

By John Peter Cavender

Feb. 6, 2014 1:40 a.m.

A recent analysis of a 2011 survey suggests a link between discrimination related to transgender bias and attempted suicide among transgender adults, according to a study by researchers at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The study, released on Jan. 28, analyzes
the findings of the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which showed that 41 percent of transgender or gender nonconforming adults questioned in the survey attempted suicide in their lifetimes.

About 80 percent of respondents who had suffered physical or sexual violence at school attempted suicide, the researchers found in the study. Also, 65 percent of respondents who suffered violence at work attempted suicide, according to the study.

Jody Herman, manager of transgender research at the Williams Institute and coauthor of the survey, said she thinks the strikingly high percentage of attempted suicides by transgender adults is something the transgender community has been aware of for a long time.

More than half of those who experienced bullying or harassment at school reported attempting suicide at some time in their life, according to the study.

The study suggests that prevention methods such as promoting acceptance in schools should be investigated as a way to reduce attempted suicides by transgender adults, Herman said.

Some members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community said they thought the high percentage of suicide attempts by transgender respondents was unsurprising.

Nami Hatfield, a graduate student in library information studies who identifies as a transgender woman, said she expected the percentage to be even higher. She added that she has seen many members of the transgender community go through bouts of depression and attempt suicide.

Hatfield said that though she has never harmed herself before, she has gone through periods of depression, some which have occurred during her time at UCLA.

Although she said the graduate students she interacts with at UCLA are very accepting, she thinks not all campus members are as tolerant. While walking on campus she said she sometimes hears students whisper about her or giggle at her and sees many people stare at her uncomfortably.

“People have literally rushed outside of places to avoid me,” she added.

Hatfield said there are two main groups for transgender or gender nonconforming students on campus that help give her and others support. One is the Transgender Pride UCLA student group, which has about 20 members, of which Hatfield is the vice president. The other is the gender identity spectrum support group run by UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services.

Hatfield said one problem she has experienced at UCLA is that the registrar will not use her preferred name, because it uses only a student’s legal name. To legally change one’s name is expensive and time-consuming, Hatfield said.

“It’s only a name, but a name can mean a lot to a transgender person – it’s a form of identity,” Hatfield said.

Not being able to change her name forces Hatfield to email her professors before each quarter and explain to them why her given name is not correct and why it is important to her to use the name she identifies with, she added.

Raja Bhattar, director of the LGBT Campus Resource Center, said he is similarly not surprised by the high rates of attempted suicide in the transgender community.

“It is frustrating that we live in a world where people are mistreated for being who they are,” he said.

Bhattar said that the LGBT Center has been working to improve the experience of students who identify as transgender. A preferred-name program is under development with the UCLA Registrar’s Office and many other campus organizations, he added.

Herman said the work is not done yet.

“The findings across the board are very alarming; further research will be needed to address these problems,” Herman said.

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