Over 40% of transgender people under the age of 25 attempt suicide compared to the less than 1% national average. And those statistics are the same across most of the world where records are kept and are often quoted in articles and presentations. What is not so often mentioned is that the single biggest factor in determining whether a transgender child is likely to attempt suicide is parental support.
I wrote last week about the tragic suicide by Leelah Alcorn, whose suicide note pointed the blame clearly at her parents refusal to accept that she was trans and persistently did everything to stop her from being herself. There is clear evidence to show that transgender children who do not receive support from parents are much more likely attempt suicide, self harm, take drugs, engage in unsafe sexual activity and become HIV positive.
I find it very difficult to understand why a parent would put their bigoted feelings ahead of their child's safety but they do. While I was at university 10 years ago I came across countless cases of students who, now living on their own and having met other LGBT people at uni, had come out only to have all financial and social support from parents withdrawn and were unable to return home.
Leelah's story has had a significant impact, but I really wish that the message could have come from a more positive story.
Actress Leverne Cox has been a huge success last year following the success of Orange is the New Black. She is not the first trans actress, but she is certainly the most successful and managed become the first openly trans woman to make the front cover of Time Magazine, get nominated for an Emmy award for acting and become Glamour Magazines Woman of the Year among a host of awards and nominations in 2014. At the GLADD awards her mother came onstage to present her with bouquet prompting some positive words about support.
Of course having supportive parents does not guarantee that a trans child will not attempt suicide. Laverne grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Alabama where not behaving as a boy is expected to behave is a guarantee of relentless bullying. At the age of 11 Laverne attempted to take her own life.
But one of the most moving stories I have heard about positive support is a short speech by Debi Jackson made earlier in 2014 about her experiences bringing up a trans daughter. Debi had blogged on BlogHer about this issue of trans children receiving support from parents and then delivered that blog post as speech in which she addresses some of the very negative comments that have been made about her in a humorous and moving way. It's a speech that I think every parent and schoolteacher should hear - especially those who consider using their religious beliefs to support their bigoted views. Debi describes herself as a conservative Southern Baptist Republican from Alabama - yet her support for her young trans daughter is remarkable and her message inspiring.