Transgender teens need safe & supportive schools

On January 25, 2019, for the first time, the CDC released data on health behaviors and experiences of transgender youth from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Data collected by 19 CDC-funded sites (10 states, 9 large urban school districts) included a single-item question to measure the proportion of high-school youth who identify as transgender in the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). Population-based data (including YRBS) are critical to address disparities that exist between transgender and cisgender youth.

Knowing which questions to ask and how to ask them in order to get high-quality data can be a challenging task. That is why we have been working to try and get it right – developing, testing, and piloting questions. We work closely with partner organizations and research colleagues to identify the most accurate and effective ways to accurately represent in surveys students who identify as transgender. A variety of governmental and non-governmental partners, including GLSEN and CDC, have been working to share data and find the most effective way forward.

Data from the 2017 state and local YRBS indicate that transgender students are more likely to experience violence victimization, substance use, suicide risk, and sexual risk, and would benefit from increased support. This spring, 22 states and large urban school districts will assess transgender identity for the next cycle of YRBS data. In addition to increasing surveillance, programmatic efforts to create safer learning environments and ensure access to culturally competent care are important steps to improving the health of the nation’s transgender youth. 

Joseph G. Kosciw, PhD, GLSEN’s Chief Research & Strategy Officer; Michelle M. Johns, MPH, PhD, Health Scientist, Research Application and Evaluation Branch, CDC’s Division of Adolescent School Health (DASH); J. Michael Underwood, PhD, Chief, School-Based Surveillance Branch, CDC’s Division of Adolescent School Health (DASH)