Springfield mom Katie Flesch listened to teens at the Ohio Youth Transgender Symposium in Columbus earlier this month share their stories of struggling with rejection by their families, depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Her daughter Elizabeth is 7 and was born as Landon. She transitioned to a girl within the past year.
Hearing the statistics on transgender youth suicides, Flesch became even more resolved to make sure her daughter grows up in a supportive environment.
“For me it was, I would rather have a happy, healthy live daughter than a sad, miserable, possibly dead son,” she said.
All lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts and suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“More studies are needed to better understand the risks for suicide among transgender youth,” the CDC says. “However, one study with 55 transgender youth found that about 25 percent reported suicide attempts.”
Other studies put that number above 40 percent.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, conducted in 2011 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, was the largest survey of transgender and gender non-conforming adults to date. Out of 6,000 respondents, 41 percent reported attempting suicide at least once in their life.
In Ohio, that rate was even higher — 44 percent of Ohio respondents said they’d attempted suicide at some point in their life. That’s more than 27 times the rate of the general population at 1.6 percent, according to the survey.
The survey also found that those who expressed a transgender identity while in grades K-12 reported, “alarming rates of harassment (86 percent), physical assault (40 percent) and sexual violence (14 percent).”
Nationwide 15 percent of respondents left a K-12 school or higher education institution because of harassment.
Elizabeth attends Rolling Hills Elementary School, where her mom said the staff members has been wonderful in accommodating her needs and preventing bullying.
“It’s something that she was born with and I wouldn’t have understood that either,” Flesch said. “I just hope for people to find some understanding and some tolerance.”
The CDC has a page with recommendations for schools and parents to promote a healthy environment for LGBTQ youth.