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.

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Questions about transgender students have only grown since the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidance on gender identity last month.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?


School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
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.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

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 Why Two Superintendents of Mostly-White Districts Are Actively Fighting Anti-Black Racism
Predominantly white school districts across the country have started addressing systemic racism in the classroom, but not every district is doing it, and those who are brace for backlash.
5 min read
Outdoor education teacher Mark Savage challenges his students with a game in class at Brewer High School in Brewer, Maine on April 30, 2021.
Outdoor education teacher Mark Savage challenges his students with a game in class at Brewer High School in Brewer, Maine in April.
Linda Coan O’Kresik for Education Week
Equity & Diversity What Black Men Need From Schools to Stay in the Teaching Profession
Only 2 percent of teachers are Black men. Three Black male educators share their views on what's behind the statistic.
Equity & Diversity Opinion Researchers Agree the Pandemic Will Worsen Testing Gaps. But How Much?
Without substantial investment in their learning, the life chances of children from low-income families are threatened.
Drew H. Bailey, Greg J. Duncan, Richard J. Murnane & Natalie Au Yeung
4 min read
a boy trying to stop domino effect provoked by coronavirus pandemic
Feodora Chiosea/iStock/Getty Images
Equity & Diversity Opinion The Chauvin Verdict Is in. Now What?
Justice has been served in the murder of George Floyd, but educators must recommit to the fight for racial equity, writes Tyrone C. Howard.

Tyrone C. Howard
4 min read
People gather at Cup Foods after a guilty verdict was announced at the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 death of George Floyd, on April 20, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minn. Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd.
Following the announcement of the guilty verdicts in the George Floyd murder trial this week, people gather outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis.<br/>
Morry Gash/AP