Transgender people are up to 25 times more likely to attempt suicide, according to a groundbreaking new study series in the academic journal The Lancet that focuses on transgender health.
With a worldwide population estimated at 25 million, transgender people remain an under-researched group -a state of affairs that needs to change, so say the authors of The Lancet series who argue that appropriate social and scientific inquiry into transgendered people and communities can only help in creating greater awareness and understanding of transgender issues within society at large.
“Transgender people continue to face a range of challenges that deprive them of respect, opportunities, and dignity and have damaging effects on their mental and physical health and well being,” say the authors.
The terms transgender and transsexual are said to apply to those people who experience some form of gender incongruence, an uncomfortableness or discord between one’s personal sense of one’s own gender and one’s sex as assigned at birth. A transgender man, for example, is someone who was labelled a female at birth but who self-identifies as a man, while a transgender woman is someone who was labelled male but who identifies as a woman.
Transgender people may or may not seek out medical services such as gender reassignment surgery, hormone treatment or other gender-affirming healthcare options. Modern estimates put the numbers of transgender people at between 0.5 and 1.3 per cent of the global population for birth-assigned males and between 0.4 and 1.2 per cent for birth-assigned females.
Social stigma is a major obstacle facing transgender people, preventing them from obtaining access to medical, social and political rights worldwide. Eight out of 49 European countries currently deny transgender people gender recognition, the process allowing a person to have their gender legally changed. This lack of respect and recognition, researchers say, takes a great toll on mental health.
A 2011 study in the United States found that 41 per cent of transgender participants reported attempting suicide, in comparison to 1.6 per cent of the general population.
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“Transgender people often encounter stigma, discrimination, and abuse in their lives. They are edged towards the margins of society, where they get involved in risky situations and risky behaviours,” say the study series authors. HIV prevalence amongst transgender people is 49 times greater than among the general population. And research shows that many transgender people live under the constant threat of violence, with one international study finding that between 2008 and 2016 there have been 2115 documented killings of transgender people worldwide.
In Canada, the Liberal government has introduced a transgender rights bill aimed at guaranteeing legal and human rights protection for transgender people. If passed, Bill C-16 would add to the Canadian Human Rights Act by including gender identity and gender expression within the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination and amend the Criminal Code to allow crimes based on gender identity or expression to fall under hate crimes law.
“Diversity and inclusion have long been among the values that Canadians embrace, and Canadians expect their government to reflect these values,” said Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in reference to the new legislation.