A Lack of Bathroom Access Could Increase the Risk of Suicide for Trans People

Photo: Epoxydude/Corbis

The recent spate of proposed (and passed) state legislation attempting to ban transgender people from the bathrooms they would like to use is really about fearmongering. There’s just no evidence any of the wild, scary claims proponents of these laws have made about men putting on dresses to sneak into bathrooms and assault innocent women are true. The goal here isn’t actually to protect anyone, but to gin up disgust and outrage.

But disgust and outrage can have dire real-world consequences, of course. In this case, laws restricting people from using the bathroom could, a recent Journal of Homosexuality study found, have a seriously negative effect on transgender people’s mental health, and potentially put them at an increased risk of suicide. Drawing on data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, Kristie Seelman of Georgia State examined a bunch of variables associated with various mental-health outcomes among respondents who identify as transgender.

Summing up the study in Slate, Christina Cauterucci writes:  

That survey included 6,450 participants, 2,325 of whom attended college and identified as trans while they were there, making them eligible for Georgia State’s analysis.

Of those 2,325 trans people, 46.5 percent reported attempting suicide at some point in time, compared with 4.6 percent of the general U.S. population. Those who’d been denied gender-appropriate bathroom access or campus housing were at significantly higher risk for suicide: 60.5 percent and 60.6 percent, respectively, had attempted it.

Even after Seelman controlled for interpersonal victimization from other students and teachers, the difference remained. “Hostility, harassment, discrimination, invisibility, and marginalization are common experiences for transgender students,” she said in a statement. “The institutional and social supports that may contribute to their resilience, coping, and academic success are often lacking. Taken altogether, these experiences often tear down their psychological well-being.”

As Seelman notes, in past research transgender people have reported that this is a specifically difficult issue for them, and it’s easy to understand why: It’s just not pleasant to feel like you don’t have access to a bathroom where you feel comfortable, and this study suggests that it stands out as a risk factor for suicide.

Suffice it to say, it’s unlikely the people releasing terrifying ads about bathroom assaults will be swayed by this. But it’s still important research.  

Anti-Trans Bathroom Laws Could Up Suicide Risks