School bathroom rules tied to LGBT+ students' risk of sexual violence: study

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Transgender youth, along with those who do not identify as male or female, are at increased risk of sexual violence in schools that force them to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender assigned at birth, a study published on Monday said.

Thirty-six percent of transgender and non-binary teens in schools with restrictions were assaulted, compared with 24 percent of students with no restrictions, according to research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

“These policies are not abstract issues,” lead author Gabriel Murchison, a post-graduate student in population health sciences at Harvard University, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“They are associated with serious long-lasting effects on kids.”

Murchison’s research drew on survey data from more than 3,600 transgender and non-binary students aged 13 to 17 collected by the Human Rights Campaign and the University of Connecticut in 2017.

While this quantitative study cannot show that restrictive bathroom and locker room policies directly lead to individual assaults, the “clear and consistent” data link policy and unsafe environments for already at-risk student populations, Murchison said.

The Trump administration rescinded federal guidance specifically protecting transgender students in public schools in 2017, opening the door for schools and states to restrict bathroom use for students.

When asked in a hearing before the House Education and Labor Committee in April if she knew of the risks the move posed to transgender students’ school performance and mental health, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she did.

She added that the her department’s Office of Civil Rights was dedicated to ensuring equal access to education.

Students have come up with their own ways of dealing with the bathroom rules, said Ellen Kahn, director of the Children, Youth and Families Program for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a Washington-based LGBT+ advocacy group.

“About 50 percent of young people in our survey go through the day without using the bathroom, which is its own health issue,” she said.

Regardless of gender identity, teens who are sexually assaulted are at heightened risk for depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, the AAP study said.

The National Center for Transgender Equality estimated that nearly half of all gender minorities in the United States experiences unwanted sexual contact during their lifetimes.

(This story corrects punctuation in headline)

Reporting by Kate Ryan, Editing by Jason Fields Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit