Among the protest signs present at the entrance-exam-day protest at Mount Saint Charles Academy was one with this message:
41% of Trans Individuals Attempt Suicide In Their Lifetimes. “Accommodation” Cannot Wait
The 41% number comes from a study of survey results by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, but looking through all of the numbers shows that the issue of transgenders is incredibly complicated even on a personal, individual level, let alone on social, political, and theological levels.
No matter what cut of the data one views, the rate of attempted suicides is horrifyingly high, but it’s not a simple matter of intolerance leading to suicide, and with the elevation of public discussion of transgenders in the United States toward the top of the subject list, reducing it to simplistic declarations about discrimination is unproductive and could, in fact, be harmful to the very people whom activists claim to be supporting.
As a baseline, one should note that the only broad groups that report less than a 30% rate of lifetime suicide attempts are those with incomes over $100,000 (26%), men who characterize themselves as only “cross-dressers” (21%), and those over 65 (16%). Moreover, some of the outcomes are surprising and raise questions about the actual cause of the attempts, and even the triggers for them.
Looking at Table 7, for example, shows that transgenders in the female-to-male group are just as likely to attempt suicide whether they think people can tell that they’re different or not. Among the gender non-conforming (GNC) group born female, the suicide-attempt rate is actually higher when they don’t think people can tell. (Generally, those who are genetically male or female have inverted results.)
One point that’s especially relevant the Mount Saint Charles controversy is related to negative work experiences (Table 16). The suicide-attempt rate among those who think they didn’t get a job because of their status is 53%, but the rate is higher for almost every other work-related experience. That includes “denied access to appropriate bathrooms,” which showed a suicide-attempt rate of 59%.
In other words, based on this one survey (which is limited, but probably more than most people attacking the school have reviewed), a workplace or a school that expects transgendered students to face some sort of difficulty may actually be reducing the incidence of suicide attempts by having a blanket policy excluding them.
But the important point — the very important point — is that the question of what is best for any particular person who self-identifies as transgendered depends hugely on that particular person and on the environment that he or she intends to enter. It might be too much for an institution like a school to implement an absolute and unchangeable policy, but it’s definitely too much to issue blanket social edicts that exclusion is always and everywhere pure discrimination based on bigoted animus.
Given the complexity and personal nature of the issue, the best attitude for society to take is one that allows all people and organizations to assess their own conditions and to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. From the outside, some decisions may seem arbitrary, and people won’t always make the right ones, but that’s a risk of living in a free society that prioritizes a right to come to one’s own conclusions about reality.
This observation applies much more broadly, encompassing other social debates as well as business and employment regulations.