Equity & Diversity

How Many Transgender Children Are There?

By Evie Blad — March 07, 2017 4 min read
Texas high school wrestler Mack Beggs is announced as the winner of a semifinal match of a wrestling tournament at Allen High School in Allen, Texas. Beggs, a transgender boy, has been undergoing hormone therapy as he transitions from female to male. The governing body that oversees Texas high school sports requires Beggs to wrestle in the girls' division because of its rule that restricts sports participation based on the sex listed on an athlete's birth certificate.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As policymakers and educators debate the rights of transgender children in schools, they have no federal data to answer even the most basic question: How many transgender children are there?

That’s because publicly collected data on transgender individuals—part of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey—is not collected in every state, and participating states only survey adults.

Although it’s generally believed that transgender children make up a relatively small share of the population, advocates surmise some are now more likely to “come out” and transition at younger ages than in years past because of greater public awareness of the issue.

About 0.7 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds living in the United States identify as transgender, some 150,000 teenagers, according to an estimate released in January by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law. The think tank, which researches issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, based its estimates on statistical modeling rather than direct surveys of children.

More work is needed to gather more representative and demographic data about transgender youths, the organization says.

Why are data on transgender students important?

Federal civil rights laws should protect the interests of transgender children, regardless of how many there are, advocacy groups say. But more complete data could help explain the need for clear, consistent policies related to transgender students to state and local officials, they say.

Questions about transgender students have only grown since the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidance on gender identity last month. That guidance had put schools on notice that they could be found in violation of the sex-discrimination protections of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 if they didn’t honor students’ gender identity.

In withdrawing that guidance, the Trump administration left it to state and local decisionmakers to determine how to handle a range of issues, including what restrooms and locker rooms transgender students should use, whether to call them by their desired pronoun, and how to handle identifying their gender on student records.

For educational leaders, conversations about those decisions can remain hypothetical for a long time—until a transgender student enrolls in their school. Because transgender students represent a small proportion of the population, it can take a while for smaller, rural districts to confront such issues. When they do, it can be a scramble.

And the decisions can lead to criticism from various corners, school leaders say.

Texas school athletics officials, for example, have faced stiff criticism after they required a transgender boy to compete against girls in wrestling even after he underwent hormone therapy and said he wanted to compete in the boys division. He recently won the state’s girls’ wrestling championship, and parents and other athletes complained that the testosterone treatments gave him an unfair advantage.

How did researchers create their estimate?

The Williams Institute used data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey that asks adults a range of health- and demographic-related questions. Nineteen states asked optional questions about transgender identity in 2014, and an additional eight states asked those questions in 2015.

Researchers looked for correlations between transgender status and other factors, such as age and religious affiliation. They matched those correlations against demographic data in every state to create estimates for the teenage population.

Are there efforts to collect more federal data on transgender students?

Some researchers and advocacy groups have pushed in recent years to expand the data that federal agencies collect related to students’ sexual orientation and gender identity. Questions added in recent years to surveys collected by the CDC and the U.S. Department of Education have provided additional data points about bisexual, gay, and lesbian students, but none has focused on gender identity.

Advocacy groups say adding more questions about such issues to federal surveys would help examine how LGBT students are treated in schools, whether they experience higher rates of peer victimization, and how those experiences affect their lives and academic outcomes.

But that push comes amid complaints from some education leaders that data collection is already cumbersome and overwhelming. And, in some states, parents have pushed back against student surveys out of privacy concerns.

To this point, most data on the experiences of transgender students are collected by groups like GLSEN and other advocacy organizations and by academic researchers.

What’s next in the national debate over transgender-student rights?

At least six cases are in federal courts right now that are related to schools’ transgender-student policies. Those include the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia boy who sued the Gloucester County, Va, district after it would not let him use the boys’ restroom.

The U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear Grimm’s case March 28. But after the change in interpretation by the Trump administration, the high court sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., to determine if Title IX and its accompanying regulations apply to transgender students. That court had originally deferred to the now-rescinded interpretation of the Obama administration.

A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2017 edition of Education Week as How Many Transgender Children Are There?

Events

Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
Mission Possible: Saving Time While Improving Student Outcomes
Learn how district leaders are maximizing instructional time and finding the best resources for student success through their MTSS framework.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Reading & Literacy K-12 Essentials Forum Writing and the Science of Reading
Join us for this free event as we highlight and discuss the intersection of reading and writing with Education Week reporters and expert guests.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Q&A A Formula for Creating More Equitable Gifted and Talented Programs
Anthony Vargas in Manassas, Va., has nearly doubled the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the district's gifted program.
4 min read
Anthony Vargas, the supervisor of gifted and talented and advanced programs, judges and advises 6th grade student projects prepared for the National History Day contest at Baldwin Intermediate School in Manassas, Va., on December 6, 2022.
Anthony Vargas, the supervisor of gifted and talented and advanced programs, judges presentations by 6th graders at Baldwin Intermediate School in Manassas, Va. The students, in the gifted education program, were preparing for a National History Day contest.
Valerie Plesch for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Leader To Learn From A Leader Who's Busting Down Barriers to Gifted Education
Anthony Vargas has nearly doubled the share of poor and Hispanic students in gifted education in Manassas, Va.
8 min read
Anthony Vargas judges projects presented by 5th grade students at Baldwin Intermediate School in Manassas, Va., on Dec. 6, 2022.
Anthony Vargas judges projects presented by 5th grade students at Baldwin Intermediate School in Manassas, Va.
Valerie Plesch for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion Educators, We Must Defend AP African American Studies
In an open letter to colleagues, a former Florida educator urges teachers to speak out. "No one will save us."
Monika Williams Shealey
5 min read
Illustration of many hands are raised against a giant hand stopping them
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + Getty Images
Equity & Diversity The Ongoing Challenges, and Possible Solutions, to Improving Educational Equity
Schools across the country were facing major equity challenges before the pandemic, but its disruptions exacerbated them.
4 min read
v42 16 sr equity cover intro 112322
Illustration by Chris Whetzel for Education Week