Commentary

CDC graphic on LGB youth violence sparks debate about trans inclusion

Here’s what I’ve found. The YRBS, or the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System, is a frequently used survey format. What’s great about using the same survey across multiple populaces over time is that you can contrast and compare data with ease in the future. This reasoning is probably why they are still working on the best way to ask folks about being transgender.

Another roadblock might be the fact that there are ever-evolving ways to ask about gender identity, and the way we ask about gender identity in 10 years will most likely be completely different. Trying to box up gender fluidity into tiny classifications is going to be a task. While the delay is annoying to some, the CDC is probably attempting to develop the questions so that the answers can be used for years to come.

When I read the statement I heard researchers who claim that they are working on a way to include trans folks but should have probably prefaced the results and the infographic with that knowledge. The absence of trans youth in the infographic coupled with a lack of acknowledgement of the survey’s limitations makes it look as though the CDC doesn’t believe transgender youth face violence and discrimination.

Which is the furthest thing from the truth. And the trans community really needs data like this survey in order to gain equal rights.

Debi Jackson, a trans youth advocate who is best known for the viral video “That’s Good Enough,” says leaving trans youth out of the survey results is unacceptable regardless of the reasoning.

“I don’t believe their excuse about bureaucracy. There are numerous ongoing studies about trans youth taking place at the moment, and results have been published by both LGBT organizations, like, GLSEN’s bi-annual School Climate Survey which was released Wednesday, and by researchers in the medical field,” she explains. “They could have reached out to any one of those groups to get assistance in creating their questions. They should have tried harder because trans people are dying at alarming rates and violence against them is likely to rise with continued political rhetoric.”

She went on to say that she was happy to see an outpouring of support for trans youth in response to the survey.

“Trans youth desperately need to be validated,” she says.

My hope is that the CDC recognizes their mistake and the fact that an especially vulnerable part of the LGBT community is in dire need of validation and statistics. We can’t be upset with the CDC for presenting the information they have accurately, have but we can demand and put pressure on them to add data about trans lives and to do so quickly.

Transgender people and allies understand how tiring it can be to educate people after we feel dismissed by them. It can be tempting to simply write off organizations and people who are careless about the inclusion of gender identity. I don’t know if the CDC could have made their questions inclusive of gender identity and obtained the type of statistics they wanted to. What I do know is they could have at the very least recognized that transgender kids face severe discrimination and that they were working on a way to include them in the study.

I hope that the LGBT community holds the CDC accountable but doesn’t simultaneously discount the work that they did come out with. We absolutely need better data on trans youth, but the increase in information about LGB youth is a good thing. From the statistics, things look bleak for them right now, too.

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