Dear Decaturish – We support Superintendent Dude’s treatment of transgender students
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On September 15 you reported on a “Parents’ Coalition” and its opposition to the transgender-affirming policies in place within City Schools of Decatur. One of the coalition representatives was Norcross attorney Vernadette Broyles. In her address to the School Board Ms. Broyles cautioned that sex reassignment leads to an increase in suicide amongst transgender youth. As evidence she cited a 2011 Swedish study which showed high suicide rates for those who underwent gender reassignment surgery in Sweden between 1973 and 2003 (Dhejne et al., 2011). Her characterization of the study is misleading and even harmful to the efforts to reduce the risk of suicide amongst transgender youth.
While it is true that the Swedish study reports a correlation between gender reassignment surgery and incidences of suicide, the authors are very careful to state that this correlation does not prove causation. They write, “the results should not be interpreted such as sex reassignment per se increases morbidity and mortality. Things might have been even worse without sex reassignment” (italics added). Ms. Broyles and her associates are inaccurately using this article, which states that the suicide rate might be even higher without medical transition, to support their argument against medical transition services.
There is a robust body of research indicating that the greatest risk of suicide comes from withholding treatment, support, and protection from our transgender youth:
- Trans youth whose parents reject their gender identity were 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than trans youth whose parents are accepting (Travers et al, 2012).
- Trans youth experiencing strong social support were 82% less likely to act upon suicidal thoughts (Bauer et al, 2015).
- Discrimination, physical abuse, being non-white, and being seen by others as transgender all increase risk for suicide (Haas et al, 2014)
- The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reports that, “Transgender people who are denied equal access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity are vulnerable to harassment, violence, and poor mental health, including higher levels of suicidal thoughts and behaviors” (James et al, 2016, p. 224).
Thoughtful research and good data enhance awareness and sensitivity but they cannot resolve deep seated fear and prejudice. Opening minds and hearts is relational work. Decatur has a rich history of reaching out across differences and risking difficult conversations. As longtime members of the Decatur community, we think this city is up to yet another stretch. Our transgender youth are asking us to think more deeply about our notions of gender and to reflect in new ways about what it means to be human. Transgender children and teens have much to teach us about ourselves and much to offer our community. We support Dr. Dude’s efforts to keep Decatur City Schools a safe and affirming place for our trans youth.
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