A new report by the Trevor Project found that 48 percent of LGBTQIA+ intersex youths seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months, highlighting the need for acceptance and inclusion
Content warning: This article discusses youth suicide rates.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, with LGBTQIA+ youth being four times more likely to seriously consider suicide, to make a plan for suicide, and to attempt suicide than their straight, cisgender peers. But a new report shows that intersex youths face a disproportionately high risk of suicide than other LGBTQ youths, with nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of intersex youths reporting that they had attempted suicide in the previous 12 months, compared to 14 percent of LGBTQ youths who don’t identify as intersex.
The Trevor Project, a nationwide organization that works to support LGBTQIA+ youths and prevent suicide and mental health crises, surveyed more than 1,000 intersex youth between the ages of 13 and 24 as part of the organization’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. And while Planned Parenthood reports that 1 to 2 people among every 100 born in the U.S. are intersex, it’s the youngest members of that community who are most vulnerable, particularly when faced with mistreatment from peers, family members, and doctors alike, who often prescribe surgeries, procedures, or hormone therapies that aim to align them with one singular gender role — i.e., force them to fit into one singular sex or gender binary of male or female.
Forty-eight percent of intersex youths — those who do not fit the cultural definition of what it means to be male or female, due to variations in chromosomes, gonads, internal sex organs, hormones, or secondary sex traits — reported that they seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months, compared to 41 percent of LGBTQ youths who are not intersex, according to the report. Nearly 1 in 4 (24 percent) intersex youths between 13 and 17 reported a suicide attempt in the previous 12 months, compared to 14 percent of intersex youths ages 18 to 24.
As for why so many intersex youth struggle with their mental health, the research cites a number of factors, including invasive and unnecessary treatments by medical professionals, pressure to “choose” one sex or gender role by those around them, as well as discrimination, housing instability, and food insecurity.
“We already know that the rates of mental health challenges are higher for LGBTQ youth compared to cisgender, straight youth, so when we compare intersex youth to the already high rates among LGBTQ youth, we know that they’re increasingly high,” Myeshia Price, a senior research scientist at the Trevor Project, told NBC News.
But the report highlights one simple, yet critical antidote to such heart-wrenching stats: acceptance. “I think it’s important to understand that intersex youth are so much more than their bodies,” said Price. “By understanding them as individuals and as people we believe that this report gives more attention to things that may be more important to them than the sort of medicalized approach to looking at who they are.”
By having just one parent accepting of their sexual orientations or gender identities, respectively, intersex youths are 55 and 45 percent less likely to attempt suicide, with those odds even lower for those surrounded by a protective, accepting social circle. Of course, the report stresses the need for policy efforts — including gender-neutral restrooms, inclusive and affirmative sex education, and gender-neutral sports programs — for true inclusion to exist. Essentially, the message needs to be “that we see you, we know you’re here and we accept you for who you are,” particularly among intersex youths, who are so frequently denied opportunities to live freely as themselves, oftentimes beginning at birth… and change is painfully long overdue.