Young trans people still struggling for social acceptance

Those who identify as transgender face disproportionate discrimination and even family exclusion

“My dad views the world like we’re still outsiders,” said 18-year-old Hanoy Urtarte, who before graduation dreamed of leaving New Jersey behind to seek higher education in San Francisco.

Since he came out of the closet three years ago, his conservative, Dominican-American father has had trouble fully accepting his grownup child’s sexuality.

“When I first came out to my dad, it struck him hard enough that made him feel as if he lost his son,” explained Hanoy. “My dad has a hard time trying to understand me being gay. He’s definitely still confused about it.”

Though he fights for acceptance at home, he encounters no such rejection at his high school. But it wasn’t always so.

During an extracurricular course he chaired, Hanoy — popular among his peers — discussed the difficulties he had encountered with classmates who were prejudiced against his gender expression. This included external manifestations of gender mannerisms, such as behavior, clothing and voice.

“Around sixth, seventh grade, I was a victim of getting bullied. They started asking, ‘Is he gay? Is he an F-bomb? I think he is.’ That’s when I started noticing people attacking me. It was one of the worst years of my life.”

According to a 2010 study, teens who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are bullied two to three times more than straight teens, and youth identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer/questioning (LGBTQ) are significantly more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.

Four in 10 LGBTQ adults say they were rejected by a family member or close friend at some point in their lives because of their sexual orientation, and as a result, LGBTQ youth are more prone to homelessness than their heterosexual peers.

Impact of Family Acceptance for Trans people

For Hanoy, a fallout with his family would be disastrous.

“Around sixth grade, I was thinking, ‘What if my soul wasn’t supposed to be in a male’s body?’” he said. “If I were to tell my family about my idea of possibly changing my sex, definitely it would be drastic. I feel like I’d have to find another name.”

Nearly three-fifths of those who identify as trans — an umbrella term for a wide variety of identities, including those who identify as transgender or with a nonconforming gender — experience significant family rejection.

In 2011 there were estimated 700,000 people identifying as trans in the United States. The rejection they experience is “significantly more negative” than that experienced by people who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual.

Rejection at home plays a role in a very high suicide attempt rate. Approximately 40 percent of people who identify as trans or nongender have attempted suicide, compared with fewer than 2 percent nationwide.

Many trans people are increasingly turning to local support programs. Katherine Newman, a former LGBTQ program specialist who ran one such group, says many of the youths who found her group didn’t feel comfortable with gay/straight alliances (GSAs), student-led groups meant to combat homophobia.

“Many of our youth found our group because they didn’t feel comfortable at their GSAs,” she said. “As that title reflects, it is for gay- and straight-identified youth, not necessarily for trans-identified youth.”

Harassment and Assault against trans people in K–12 Settings by Gender Identity/Expression

Hanoy Urtarte, 18, explores his sexuality and gender identity.

Trans-identified and nongender youth can even be misunderstood by lesbians, gays and bisexuals. For them as well as for straight people, youths who identify as trans frequently have to explain their identity, said Newman.

“Often, trans-identified youth are in a position where they constantly have to educate people about what ‘trans’ means,” she explained. “They essentially have to justify themselves.”

Although local support groups can be instrumental in helping trans youth get through tough times, a welcoming household can be crucial.

With his father slow to accept his sexuality, Hanoy still has reservations about telling his family about the possibility of transitioning away from the sex assigned to him at birth.

“What if later on in life I wanted to change my sex?” said Hanoy. “They wouldn’t accept it at all. They’d eliminate me. I just wouldn’t be in that family.”

“I’m never going to apologize for what I do, who I am and the type of person I am. I’m 100 percent Hanoy, and I am gay.”

Al Jazeera America presents an intimate look at the lives of teenagers at the crossroads of now and the future on “Edge of Eighteen.” Fifteen stories. One incredible journey. Tune in Sunday at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT.

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