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New study shows relationship between updating IDs and suicide risk with trans, nonbinary youth

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Researchers at The Trevor Project published a peer-reviewed study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that found transgender and nonbinary youth’s ability to update identity documents to match their gender identity is significantly associated with lower suicide risk.

The findings demonstrated that youth who reported that they had not updated their documents to reflect their gender identity had greater odds of attempting suicide in the last year compared to youth who had changed their documents. These findings suggest that revisiting the way gender is captured on legal documents may be an effective public health intervention to prevent suicide among transgender and nonbinary young people.

“Previous studies among adult populations have found a correlation between transgender and nonbinary people’s ability to match their identification documents to their gender identity and lower odds for suicide risk. Our research shows that this relationship also applies to transgender and nonbinary youth— a group that we already know is disproportionately impacted by suicide,” said Dr. Jonah DeChants, research scientist at The Trevor Project. “Using documents that do not match their gender identity can make transgender and nonbinary youth more vulnerable to discrimination and harassment and this, in turn, can contribute to increased minority stress and greater odds of suicide risk. The study’s findings suggest that we need to make identification documents easier to update and safer to use for youth. Doing so can decrease minority stress and suicide risk and, ultimately, help save lives.”

Key findings:

  • Transgender and nonbinary youth who had changed their official documents to match their gender identity reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide (11%) compared to both those who were not able to change their official documents (24.5%) and those who were able but had not yet done so (33.4%).
  • A majority of transgender and nonbinary youth (56%) reported that they were not able to change their identification documents where they live, but that they would like to. 
  • More than one-third of youth in the study (37%) reported they were permitted to change their documents where they live and that they would like to, but had not yet done so; 7% reported that they had already changed their identification documents.
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported at least one parent or guardian who supported their gender identity had higher rates of updating their official documents (27%), compared to those who did not (3%) and those who were not out to their parents (0.5%).
  • For nonbinary youth in particular, attaining gender-affirming identification documents proved especially challenging:
    • Nonbinary youth reported even higher rates of being unable to access gender-affirming documents compared to their transgender peers.
    • Trans and nonbinary youth who exclusively used binary pronouns (i.e., he/him or she/her) were more likely to have updated their identification documents (13%) compared to those who used nonbinary pronouns or combinations of pronouns (4%).

This study builds upon previous findings from The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health that found transgender and nonbinary youth attempt suicide less when their pronouns are respected, when they are allowed to officially change the gender marker on their legal documents, and when they have access to spaces (online, at school, and home) that affirm their gender identity. 

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