The data comes from a 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a questionnaire used in 125 public and private schools across the country to monitor behaviors that contribute to youth violence and mortality. The survey was “the first nationally representative study to ask high school students about their sexuality,” according to the Guardian.
But the triumphant report and infographic left out something significant: data about transgender youth. When the CDC promoted the infographic on Facebook, hundreds of people commented, angered by the omission.
“The CDC distributed a questionnaire to students at 120 schools which asked if they identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, or straight. It then went on to ask if they had experienced violence,” one commenter noted. “Imagine being a transgender child, knowing that you’re trans, and here comes an opportunity to express your fear…and (you) find that you’re not included and no one cares.”
Another quipped, “I hope you don’t mind if we just start calling you the Center for Disease, since it’s too much work to get that extra word in there.”
The CDC has responded to the criticism, acknowledging the limitations of the survey and its current methodology.
“Thanks for all of the great questions and comments related to why transgender youth are not included in the infographic,” the CDC said. “Transgender youth are included in all Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. However, we do not have a question to identify them. The challenge is developing a credible gender identity question that is appropriate for students and consistent with the YRBS question format.
“We are working on developing and testing a question on gender identity. This is an important next step to determine if YRBS can be a good source of data on the transgender population. We are committed to preventing violence before it happens among all youth.”
While it is unclear why a question to identify transgender youth is so difficult to create and add to the study, a CDC representative recently told the New York Times that one “might be ready for a pilot test in 2017.”
Organizations including Advocates for Youth and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) have been lobbying for better collection of gender data to be added to the YRBS since 2010. And in 2013, the All Students Count Coalition worked with the CDC to include an optional gender expression question in which students were asked whether others would describe them as more masculine or feminine.
Students who reported that they went against gender norms were more likely to be at risk for various types of violent behaviors.
While we’re waiting on the CDC to update their survey, the Advocates for Youth organization has collected these statistics on the violence facing transgender youth, highlighting why it’s so important for their voices to be heard and their lives protected:
- While in grades K-12, transgender individuals reported high rates of harassment (78 percent), physical assault (35 percent), and sexual violence (12 percent).
- Ninety percent of transgender students have heard negative remarks about their gender expression in school. Thirty-nine percent reported hearing school staff make similar comments in the past year. Students seldom report these incidents, and school staff rarely intervene. Only a third of students felt that school staff would address the situation properly if they did report the incident.
- Forty-four percent of transgender students felt unsafe at school as a result of their gender expression and identity. Due to this fear, 30 percent had skipped at least one day of school in the past month.