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Gender Identity Disparities in Bathroom Safety and Wellbeing among High School Students

Abstract

By examining the relationship between trans identity, bathroom safety and wellbeing among high school students, this article empirically investigates how educational institutions operate as sites through which gender is negotiated in ways that are consequential for trans youth. We draw cross-sectional survey data, from a multi-school climate survey (n = 1046) conducted in the Midwestern United States, to examine three aspects of high school students’ wellbeing: safety at school, self-esteem, and grades. The sample included students in 9th–12th grade who identified as trans (9.2%) and cisgender (41.2% boys, 49.6% girls), as well as LGBQ (21.6%) and heterosexual (78.4%). Most respondents were monoracial white (65.8%), monoracial Black (12.4%), and multiracial (14.1%). Using mediation and moderation linear regression models, we show that feeling safe using school facilities helps to explain widespread inequalities between trans and cisgender students. Based on these results, we suggest that in order to address disparities in educational outcomes between trans and cisgender students, as well as to improve student wellbeing in general, policies and practices need to ensure that all students have the right to safely access bathrooms and school facilities.

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Acknowledgements

Thank you to the leaders involved in Riot Youth at the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor and the school-based organizations who helped to collect this data and are working to ensure that LGBTQ and similarly identified students have access to educational opportunities and supportive communities. We’d also like to thank Fuhua Zhai and Daniel Coleman from Fordham University for their statistical support and Milo Inglehart and Adrienne Dessel for their collaborations in the larger project. Funding for this project was provided by the Faculty Research Expense Program, Fordham University (Grant awarded to LJW).

Author Contributions

Riot Youth leaders conceived of the study in consultation with A.K. & L.J.W. L.J.W. conceived of this manuscript with A.K. and performed statistical analysis. A.K. contributed to the exploratory statistical analysis and interpreting quantitative findings. A.K. and L.W. consulted with legal experts and adult stuff at Neutral Zone. M.C. reviewed extant literature and crafted the introduction. L.J.W., A.K., and M.C. collaborated in writing the manuscript, including the theoretical framework and implications. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Laura J. Wernick.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Wernick, L.J., Kulick, A. & Chin, M. Gender Identity Disparities in Bathroom Safety and Wellbeing among High School Students. J Youth Adolescence 46, 917–930 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0652-1

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Keywords

  • Transgender
  • Bathroom access
  • Cissexism
  • School climate
  • Wellbeing
  • Students