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'Alarming:' Report shows trans youth in Alberta face high risk of suicide

It’s believed to be the first Alberta-specific set of data about transgender youth

Sean and Tony Krassman inside their Calgary home on October 11, 2017.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

Sean and Tony Krassman inside their Calgary home on October 11, 2017.

Transgender youth need access to inclusive health care in Alberta and supportive school environments to mitigate significant mental health concerns, according to new research from several Canadian universities.

The Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey, released Wednesday, found thirty-eight per cent of the older youth surveyed (114 trans youth aged 14 to 25 in Alberta responded) had attempted suicide in their lifetime and more than 63 per cent reported they have had serious thoughts of suicide.

The data also showed 73 per cent of the youth reported self-harm in the past year.

The survey was conducted across Canada but province-specific reports were compiled.

Dr. Kris Wells, assistant Professor and faculty director for the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services who co-authored the report, said to the best of his knowledge, it’s the first Alberta-specific set of data about transgender youth.

“The findings are alarming and disturbing,” Wells said. “We’ve shown there is evidence that more inclusive actions to take place.”

The report made several recommendations, including that schools work proactively with trans youth, their parents, community leaders and professionals to develop inclusive and supportive school policies – gay-straight alliances (GSAs) included.

Wells said the report underlines that GSAs are needed in all Alberta schools.

“It provides the hard data to move forward with changing our legislation to be more inclusive and increase supports for a very vulnerable population,” Wells said.

Last month, Education Minister David Eggen said he will be introducing legislation to make it illegal to ‘out’ students who join GSAs.

GSAs can provide a supportive environment when students may not have access to one at home, according to Lindsey Peace, who has three sons, one of whom is trans.

“If they don’t feel safe at home and then if we’re going to out them at school, then they’re not safe anywhere,” Peace said.

The report also recommended more outreach and professional supports for families be developed to help them understand and support their trans children, and to help trans youth feel safe at home.

Peace said she understands the fear parents may feel when their child is trans, but providing a safe environment and understanding is paramount their mental health.

“It can be really scary, because it is tough,” Peace said. “But they always get to the same place – they realize they’re going to lose their kid otherwise.”

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