Transgender youth missing out

DANIELLE STREET
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2014
Transgender Study
STUDENT SUPPORT: Rainbow Youth general manager Duncan Matthews says extra training for medical staff and teachers would help transgender pupils.

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Transgender teens are facing significant hurdles when accessing health care, according to a study believed to be a world-first.

Researchers from the University of Auckland interviewed more than 8000 high school students around New Zealand for the Youth '12 study.

In response to gender-based questions 1.2 per cent described themselves as transgender and a further 2.5 per cent said they were unsure about their gender.

Lead researcher Terryann Clark says the findings represent a small but significant group.

"Now we know from this study that there actually are probably a lot of young people out there who are questioning, thinking about their gender but just never necessarily talk to anybody about it," she says.

Around two-thirds of these students had not previously disclosed their gender to anyone.

Dr Clark says students who identified as transgender reported compromised mental health and personal safety and described more difficulty when accessing health care.

Nearly 20 per cent had attempted suicide in the previous year and nearly 50 per cent had been physically abused.

The study is believed to be the first nationally representative survey to report on the overall health and well-being of transgender young people.

It concludes that schools, health services, and communities must consider transgender youth represent an important population that has specific needs.

Recent high school graduate Shane was born as a female but during his final year of school he started identifying as "gender fluid".

Shane chooses to dress in a masculine way and most days will bind his breasts.

"With the school uniform I was really lucky, they were perfectly OK with me dressing in pants and a tie."

The supportive atmosphere of his school also resulted in Shane being able to use the teachers' bathrooms instead of having to choose between the male and female toilets.

For the most part Shane has had support from his community, but he knows it's not always the case.

"I know quite a few people that have been bullied," he says.

"I'm really lucky I think because I look like quite a feminine male, I do get mistaken as a gay male, which I don't mind."

The Lynfield resident says training for teachers and health professionals would be a big step towards accommodating young people who are negotiating their gender.

It's an opinion shared by Duncan Matthews from Rainbow Youth, an organisation providing support, information and advocacy for queer and trans* young people.

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Mr Matthews says it represents a growing awareness surrounding issues about gender identity. He says problematic access to health care for trans people of all ages was identified in a Human Rights Commission paper in 2008, but little has come out of the report.

FACT BOX

Rainbow Youth uses trans* as an umbrella term for gender-diverse people, including whakawahine, tangata ira tane, transsexual, fa'afafine, transgender and gender-neutral people.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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