A shocking 77 percent of trans Ontarians have seriously considered suicide; 43 percent have attempted suicide — and those numbers only reflect the ones who are still around to respond to a survey.

These grim statistics were reported by the Trans PULSE survey team, which recently released its second e-bulletin based on the province-wide survey’s results, this one focused on suicide among trans people young and old in Ontario.

Kyle Scanlon, an education consultant at the 519 Church Street Community Centre and co-investigator with the Trans PULSE survey, co-authored the suicide e-bulletin.

“The numbers didn’t surprise me,” Scanlon says. “It was saddening more than anything else, but it wasn’t surprising. I’ve heard many stories of people at their rope’s end, having attempted or committed suicide.”

According to Scanlon, in addition to the alarming numbers, there is no real way to estimate “survivor bias” — since a survey can only gather data from people who are still alive.

“We do know that voices are missing because those who have committed, or completed, suicide, those voices are lost. They can’t speak for themselves anymore,” he says. “Anecdotally we know that at the stage of contemplating suicide, they’re not always out to anyone yet, so the reason for people’s suicides is not always recorded. And some of the suicides that have been labelled gay and lesbian deaths may actually have been trans suicides. We have no way of knowing.”

According to Scanlon, the Trans PULSE team chose to release the suicide-related data earlier than planned because the issues of anti-gay bullying and queer youth suicide are currently attracting much media attention, thanks in part to columnist Dan Savage’s popular It Gets Better campaign aimed at discouraging suicide among young queer people. The data show that young trans people are far more likely to seriously consider suicide than older ones.

“We felt that there was radio silence, almost literally, about a group of people who were facing the same level, or even worse levels, of extreme discrimination, and whose lives and experiences were not being honoured or recorded or addressed,” says Scanlon. “And it was absolutely pertinent that those experiences be put on the table, because this is the time when school boards begin thinking of ways to address anti-gay bullying, so now is the time when we need to make them think about anti-trans bullying. Once they’ve made their policies and recommendations it’s almost too late.”

Scanlon says that no organizations have yet shown interest in the trans suicide data for policy purposes, but he remains hopeful.

The experience of being harassed or assaulted for being trans also factors heavily into trans people’s suicide consideration. While not all trans people have experienced harassment or assault because of their gender presentation or their trans status, those who have been harassed (34 percent) or assaulted (20 percent) specifically for being trans are dramatically more likely to consider and attempt suicide.

“It isn’t just about getting beat up more,” says Scanlon. “I think it’s about self-image. You’re taught a lesson when you’re being beat up or called names, and that lesson is that you’re worthless, and eventually you internalize those messages, you stop questioning them, you take it for granted that they must be true, and you stop having hope.”

The e-bulletin recommends that trans people considering suicide call the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line (1-800-268-9688), Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

The team chose the resources carefully.

“We didn’t want to refer people to a resource and then have that resource treat them in a discriminatory way,” says Scanlon, who says he has personally trained staff at the first two organizations. 

Does life get better for trans people once they’re out of high school?

“We’ve said things are starting to get better. We’ve been a lot more tentative. We don’t want to make false claims about where things are at. We want people to know that it’s still a hell of a battle out there, but there are people working hard to make change, and it’s having an impact.”

The Trans PULSE survey gathered 87 pages of data from each of 433 trans-identified respondents in Ontario, the largest ever survey of its kind. The first of what promises to be a long series of bulletins, released in July, covered basic trans demographics in Ontario. Future bulletin topics will include housing, the long-term effects of hormone therapy, and the factors that affect depression for trans people. The bulletins are available in full at transpulse.ca.
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