University of B.C. survey says health and safety are issues for trans youth

  • Dec. 5, 2017 2:31 p.m.

VANCOUVER — A new study says safety, exposure to violence and discrimination are major issues for transgender youth in Canada.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia analyzed data from 923 youths and adults aged 14 to 25 who responded to a countrywide survey conducted in 2013 and 2014.

Two-thirds of the youth reported discrimination because of their gender identity, about half said they were discriminated against because of their physical appearance, and another 70 per cent reported sexual harassment.

The report says nearly two-thirds of respondents reported self-harm in the past year, while a similar percentage reported serious thoughts of suicide.

It says close to half of young adult transgender people, aged 19 to 25, did not seek health care when they needed it as many reported having had an uncomfortable and frustrating encounter with a doctor.

The study found that 34 per cent of youths aged 14 to 18 did not seek professional care for physical problems while 47 per cent of those aged 19 to 25 had passed on mental health care, physical health care or regular checkups.

The study’s analysis shows people whose transgender identity was known by their doctor had better general health than those whose physician was unaware, or those who weren’t sure if their doctor knew.

It says youth who reported their doctors knew they were transgender also had better overall mental health than those whose doctors did not have that information.

The study was published last week in the international journal Family Practice.

One of its authors said the results show the need for a more supportive approach in health care for transgender youth.

“Trans youth have higher risk for negative health outcomes due to stigma and discrimination, so knowing that they don’t access health care even when they need to is concerning,” said Elizabeth Saewyc, a nursing professor who leads the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre at the University of B.C.

“The responsibility lies with us — with health professionals, health educators, and policymakers — to improve our competency in transgender health and ensure our trans patients can have confidence in the health care they receive,” she said in a statement.

The study says the Canadian Medical Association passed resolutions in 2014 and 2015 in support of transgender patients including integrating sex and gender diversity education into medical school curricula and programs, along with the development of clinical tools to help physicians and medical students better understand LGBT health needs.

“Canadian medical schools provide a median of four hours in pre-clinical education and zero hours of clinical education on the entirety of LGBT topics,” the report says. “It is therefore not surprising that many clinicians may be unskilled, unknowledgeable or uncomfortable providing health care for transgender youth.”

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