By RYAN QUINN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A study released in January estimated that West Virginia has, out of all 50 states, the highest percentage of 13- to 17-year-olds who would identify as transgender.
The Williams Institute’s study estimated that 1.04 percent of West Virginians in that age range would identify as transgender, compared to the national percentage of .73 percent. The study estimated that the Mountain State has 1,150 13- to 17-year-olds who would identify as transgender, compared with 149,750 nationally in that age group.
Along with the 50 states, the study also did an estimate for Washington, D.C., which would surpass all 50 states at 1.12 percent.
Jody L. Herman, scholar of public policy at The Williams Institute and an author of the study, said the organization is a research center whose main mission is to study law and policy issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. She said the center was founded in 2001 and is housed within the University of California-Los Angeles’ School of Law.
The study has not yet finished being peer reviewed, and Herman said she hopes to have a description of the methods and findings published in an academic journal.
The study didn’t actually poll 13- to 17-year-olds across the nation. Instead, it estimated how many people in that age range would identify as transgender by using data on how many adults identify as transgender.
It took this data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys, which are done via phone. The report, “Age of Individuals Who Identify as Transgender in the United States,” notes that not all states use the optional module of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System that contains the question “Do you consider yourself to be transgender?”
West Virginia wasn’t among the 19 states that asked that question in 2014, but it was among the 21 states that did so in 2015.
Herman said that because West Virginia didn’t ask the question in 2014, a past Williams Institute study of how many adults identify as transgender used a “predictive model” to estimate the percentage in the Mountain State based on the information available from other states and considerations like social climate and demographics.
The adult report thus estimated that .42 percent of Mountain State adults would identify as transgender, compared with a .58 percent national average. That ranked West Virginia 42nd in the nation.
But Herman said the new youth estimate study now takes into account the actual 2015 poll of West Virginia adults.
“West Virginia has a relatively high percentage of adults who identify as transgender,” Herman said. “Somewhat surprisingly so. … When you have actual data from West Virginia, the picture looks very different.”
She said the past predictive model would’ve suggested West Virginia would have a below-national-average percentage of 13- to 17-year-olds who identify as transgender. For instance, West Virginia is overwhelmingly white, and Herman said a higher proportion of people of color identify as transgender compared to whites.
But using the 2015 poll of West Virginia adults to estimate the percentage of 13-17-year-olds who would identify as transgender changed the picture.
Herman said the study unfortunately doesn’t answer why West Virginia has the nation’s highest estimated percentage.
“West Virginia is a mystery,” she said.
“It makes it all the more important that we have to protect these teenagers because they’re a very vulnerable population,” Andrew Schneider, executive director of the LGBT rights group Fairness West Virginia, said of the study’s finding. “They experience discrimination in greater numbers than other people.”
“We need our schools to adopt policies that will make sure that transgender students feel protected and safe within the school environment,” he said. “Transgender students should be able to use a bathroom without fear of harm or harassment.”
Of the superintendents of the state’s 55 counties, each of which has a single countywide public school system, Hardy County Superintendent Matthew Dotson remained as of September the only one publicly saying his school system would comply with the Obama administration’s guidance that transgender students — while they can be offered private bathroom facilities — must be allowed to use gender-identity matching accommodations if they so desire.
The Trump administration rescinded that guidance last week, but a U.S. Supreme Court case that could set national precedent for transgender students to have that right is scheduled for oral arguments later this month.
The superintendents for Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge and Marion counties said they would deny access, and most superintendents either didn’t provide a clear answer on whether they would deny access or didn’t respond to the Gazette-Mail’s past calls.
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