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Study Gauges Perceptions of Transgender Youths in Small Towns

Posted: August 24, 2017

Transgender youths face a number of challenges each day, and it's easy to assume those who live in small, rural towns have less understanding and more hostility in their lives. But a new study shows that's not necessarily the case and that how transgender youths perceive the climate in their community is more significant than the number of residents.

Megan Paceley, assistant professor of social welfare at the University of Kansas, has published a study in which she surveyed 70 and interviewed seven  youths who live in small towns in a Midwestern state. The article, published in the Journal of Youth Studies by Paceley; Sarah Okrey-Anderson, doctoral student at the University of Minnesota, and Micah Heumann, academic adviser at the University of Connecticut, aimed to find out how transgender youths view their communities, to help build a knowledge base of how social workers, educators and community members can better support them and meet their needs.

For the study, community was conceptualized as "factors in the environment that lead to general and minority-specific stress" and "ways in which the community can act as a support and mitigate the negative mental health outcomes associated with stigma and stress," Paceley said. The youths were asked about those factors and what they meant to them individually.

While the findings showed that smaller towns were more likely to be deemed unsupportive by the transgender youths living there, it wasn't the case for all respondents. Most said their communities were at least somewhat tolerant, meaning they had both support and experiences with people who were not understanding, but also not openly hostile to them.

The youths were asked about the resources and support they had access to. Many said that community centers, public libraries, HIV/AIDS support organizations and even affirming churches were all places in their community where they felt comfortable and welcomed. Others reported their schools had gay straight alliances where they were welcomed, but they pointed out the groups often were focused more on issues of importance to the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities, but not the , or that they were the only transgender individual at the group. Other youths reported they didn't have such resources available in their small town, but they could access them in a nearby community within driving distance. Some knew there were such resources nearby, but could not access them due to lack of transportation or supportive parents.

Read more on Read the abstract of the study.

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