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Questions about transgender students have only grown since the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidance on gender identity last month.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

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
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
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
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

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 Want to Build a Kinder, More Inclusive School? These Students Have Ideas
Students from across the U.S. present concrete solutions. The most important one: Listen to them.
4 min read
Image of a scale.
wildpixel/iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity Opinion The ‘Great Replacement Theory’ Is a Lie. It's Also a Threat to Schools
The conspiracy espoused by the Buffalo shooting suspect is of particular concern for schools, writes Jonathan E. Collins.
Jonathan E. Collins
3 min read
Signs, balloons, and police tape are wrapped around a pole across from Tops Friendly Market, the Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store that was the site of a racist shooting rampage.
Signs, balloons, and police tape are wrapped around a pole across from Tops Friendly Market, the Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store that was the site of a racist shooting rampage on May 14.
Joshua Bessex/AP
Equity & Diversity A School Openly Discusses Race in a State That Bans It
At Millwood High School, discussions on race are everywhere, and students say the lessons are essential.
7 min read
Students pass through the halls in between classes at Millwood High School on April 20, 2022 in Oklahoma City.
Students change classes at Millwood High School this spring in Oklahoma City.
Brett Deering for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion The Buffalo Massacre Is Exactly Why We Need to Talk About Racism With White Students
Too many white people are receiving their information about race from racist media rather than their schools, writes David Nurenberg.
David Nurenberg
4 min read
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP