Em Guida, 28, says living as a nonbinary transgender person in Brick Township is “isolating.” They sighed as they spoke.
“I live in Ocean County,” said Guida. “It’s one of the most conservative places in the state to live, and that makes it hard to try to put yourself out there and connect with people when you’re kind of unsure if you’re going to be safe wherever you are.”
Guida says “all these school districts with these propositions of ‘forced outing’ kids” is what causes trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming youth to have declining mental health status.
Guida isn’t wrong, according to a new data analysis by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. A new study from the Williams Institute finds that 81 percent of transgender adults in the United States have thought about suicide, 42 percent of transgender adults have attempted it, and 56 percent have engaged in non-suicidal self-injury over their lifetimes.
Additionally, the increased suicide attempts among transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people has a direct correlation to discrimination and violence stemming from society and politics.
The study analysis, released in late July, found that discrimination, societal prejudice and internalized stigma revealed a consistent link between minority stress and poor mental health among transgender people. For example, violence, victimization, substance use, and suicide risk are all linked to anti-transgender stigma and discrimination,” the analysis found after studying 77 studies published between 1997 and 2017.
In 2023 more than 500 anti-LGBTQ laws were introduced into legislatures, according to the Equality Federation. Now, while only some of these laws actually pass, their consequences ripple throughout the country.
While New Jersey stands as one of 15 states plus Washington DC with high LGBTQ protection laws, The consequences of transphobia and anti-LGBTQ sentiment can get lost under the state’s strong anti-discrimination laws. For Guida, legal protections against discrimination don’t negate the prevalence of anti-LGBTQ sentiment and violence.
“And then when you see, you know, having to deal with my own mental health, and then seeing that members of my community are largely pretty much suicidal, it can be very discouraging,” said Guida.
Yet, Guida perseveres. They say that there is something “getting them through.”
“What’s been getting me through, lately, is just trying to attempt to feel community with others,” Guida said.
Nevertheless, some transgender youth don’t have access to community like transgender adults might. For some, it’s too late.
In November 2022 Myles Fitzpatrick took his own life. The transgender teen began transitioning at the age of 17, just before school went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The transgender youth was about to graduate Manville High School in June. Some students bullied Fitzgerald over his gender identity when Manville returned to in-person learning last year. The lawsuit also alleges that the Manville school district neglected the child’s daily transphobic abuse.
Fitzpatrick’s mother, Danielle Warshefski, filed a lawsuit on his behalf.
“All we really have is each other in a lot of ways”
“When we look at this case, the system really let Myles down,” R. Daniel Bause, Warshefski’s attorney, said when Out In Jersey originally reported on Fitzpatrick’s story. “Coming from the perspective of the effects on transgender youth, it does seem to be that they are unfortunately a target in some of these bullying cases across schools within New Jersey.”
“It can be hard because I feel like being somebody who’s more leftist, personally, it’s hard to feel like you have any kind of voice or a community and a place where the general consensus is that everyone is pretty conservative here,” Guida said. “All we really have is each other in a lot of ways and it’s hard to find community and friends, no matter who you are, but especially with this extra layer.”
The Williams Institute also states that there is “robust evidence that anti-transgender stigma limits opportunities and access to education, employment, and healthcare” too. This additionally adds to a higher burden of discrimination, violence, mental distress and disability among transgender people as well as lower educational attainment, income, and insurance coverage than cisgender people.
Peers regularly misgendered Fitzgerald at school. Adults often neglected to notice his visible self-harm in the school district, according to the lawsuit.
Yet, Fitzgerald is just one of an onslaught of youth suicides that have scarred communities and loved ones.
Mallory Grossman, while not transgender, was 12 years old when she died by suicide in 2017. Other students routinely bullied the youth over text, over Snapchat messages, and during lunch. Although the youth’s parents regularly contacted administrators about what their child experienced, the school didn’t protect Mallory, said the lawsuit. Six years after her death, Copeland Middle School in Rockaway Township agreed to pay $9.1 million to Mallory’s parents, Dianne and Seth Grossman, The New York Times reports. The parents were also instrumental in shaping new anti-bullying legislation, “Megan’s Passage.” The new law amends New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights with specific requirements on school districts to help prevent and respond to bullying incidents.