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Trans Youth Assaulted More Often When Restroom Use Restricted

Restroom sign

Restrictive policies "seem to be a marker for an environment where trans and nonbinary youth are at risk," says the lead author of a new study. 

Transgender and nonbinary young people suffer sexual assault at a higher rate in schools that don't allow them to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, a new study indicates.

Researchers led by Gabriel Murchison, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, looked at data from 2017's LGBTQ Teen Study, an anonymous online survey of U.S. youth age 13 to 17, CNN reports.

They gathered information on 3,673 transgender and nonbinary teens in seventh through 12th grades. They found that 25.9 percent of these students had experienced sexual assault in the previous 12 months, but among those in schools with restroom and locker room restrictions, 36 percent had.

"We can't tell from this study whether restrictive restroom and locker room policies cause sexual assault," Murchison told Reuters. "However, at the least, they seem to be a marker for an environment where trans and nonbinary youth are at risk." He noted that the all-gender restrooms offered at some schools are a helpful option, but they shouldn't be the only option for trans students.

The study was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. It is behind a paywall, but a free abstract is available here.

In an accompanying editorial, Diane Ehrensaft and Stephen Rosenthal, both of the University of California, San Francisco, Child and Adolescent Gender Center, pointed out that some nontrans people erroneously see trans people as perpetrators of sexual assault or at least think that sexual predators pose as trans in order to gain access to potential victims, they noted.

"Sometimes it is the school personnel who hold this attitude," they wrote. "Sometimes it is anxious and angry parents who do not want their children exposed to or 'damaged by' the gender-minority youth at their school." It's also an attitude that has been exploited in many political campaigns.

When Barack Obama was president, the Departments of Justice and Education advised schools to allow trans students access to the facilities matching their gender identity. Soon after Donald Trump took office, the departments withdrew this guidance. Schools remain free to establish inclusive policies, however. California is the only state in the nation that requires public schools to let trans students use the facilities comporting with their gender identity.

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