Equity & Diversity

Number of Trans Youth Is Twice as High as Previous Estimates, Study Finds

By Eesha Pendharkar — June 14, 2022 3 min read
Photo showing three individuals from behind holding transgender flags in the sky.
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About 300,000 teenagers identify as transgender in the United States, nearly twice as many as previous estimates, according to newly released research.

The sharp increase could be because many more young people now feel more comfortable identifying themselves as transgender—which means their gender identity does not align with their sex assigned at birth—or it could be that more accurate data sources are now available to account for them. It could also be a combination of both, according to Jody Herman, the study author and a senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute, a research center within the UCLA School of Law that specializes in LGBQT issues.

The report also found that the current population of young people between the ages of 13 to 17 is significantly more likely to identify as transgender compared with older generations. But as more young people identify as transgender, their rights at school to access counseling, to play on sports teams, and even to use bathrooms are under attack by Republican lawmakers.

“It’s our mission to make sure that policy debates aren’t just based on myths and stereotypes about people—LGBTQ people in particular—but they’re based on sound research,” Herman said.

“And so when debating public policies that might impact trans people,” she continued, “which is kind of percolating around in the states, these types of numbers should inform people contemplating those policies about the potential impact—that there are potentially, for instance, thousands of youth that might be impacted by a certain policy.”

“These numbers represent real people,” Herman said, “so we should be careful about making proclamations or demonizing [them.] They’re your community members and they’re your neighbors.”

Researchers refine their survey model

While about 1.3 million adults identify as transgender based on survey results from the Centers for Disease Control’s Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System, that only accounts for 0.5 percent of the adult U.S. population. Previous estimates of the numbers of trans youth were extrapolated from that adult count.

But in 2017, the CDC added a question about transgender identity to its Youth Risk Behavior Survey for high schoolers. Based on years of data from that survey and statistical models developed by Herman and others, the researchers found that among teenagers ages 13-17, 300,000 identify as transgender, which adds up to 1.4 percent of the nation’s population within that age group.

“Compared to previous generations, today we have more access to language and information on the expansive spectrum of gender identity. That likely contributes to the observed increase in the estimated number of youth who identify as trans in this study,” said Myeshia Price, a senior research scientist at The Trevor Project, a crisis-prevention and LGBTQ advocacy organization, in a statement. “That said, we have a lot of work to do to create safer, more accepting environments for transgender and nonbinary young people.”

Over the past year, a wave of anti-trans legislation has threatened the safety and inclusion of transgender and nonbinary young people—who align with gender identities beyond just male or female—at school.

Dozens of bills have been introduced by Republican state lawmakers since 2021 that aim to restrict classroom discussions and access to books about the LGBTQ community, ban trans girls from competing in girls’ sports, and block medical care for transitioning students.

Some of these bills have been signed into law, such as Florida’s widely critiqued “Don’t Say Gay” law, an Alabama law banning medical care for transgender youth who are transitioning and prohibiting access to bathrooms that align with students’ gender identities, and a Texas law barring transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports at public schools.

An overwhelming majority of trans and nonbinary youth are worried about all the anti-trans legislation being introduced and passed across the country, the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found.

The organization surveyed 34,000 people who are part of the LGBTQ community between the ages of 13 and 24 across the United States. Forty-eight percent of them identified as transgender or nonbinary.

It found that: 93 percent of trans and non-binary teenagers and young people are worried about trans people being denied access to gender-affirming medical care due to state or local laws; 91 percent are concerned about trans people being denied access to the bathroom; and 83 percent are worried about people being denied the ability to play sports due to these laws.

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