From this year’s Stonewall School Report, which surveyed 3,713 LGBT students aged 11-19, the statistic which has inevitably been pounced on by trans activists and the media alike is the 45% attempted suicide rate of trans-identified young people. The statistic is shocking, as of course any suicide attempt rate for young people is, but before it is used to influence policy (as the Stonewall report is intended for) we need to ask some questions in order to understand its significance.
The Stonewall report is based on a study which is flawed in similar ways to other studies which have been used by activists to ‘prove’ an extraordinarily high suicide attempt rate of trans-identified young people (like this one and this one previously) – in fact, to date, there has been no properly controlled study. We’ll say more on what we know of the methodology used in the Stonewall online survey later. First, in our analysis of the study, two causes for concern emerged clearly:
The ‘transgender’ category may just serve to cover up the scale of suicide attempts and self-harm rates of girls and young women.
It also makes invisible the number of young lesbians of this generation who are ‘identifying’ out of both womanhood and lesbianism.
This post explains the steps we took in our examination of the report and how they led us to these conclusions.
Starting from the premise that biological sex is an important marker if you’re looking to understand self-harm and suicide attempts in young people, and crucial if you are representing a community with ‘same sex’ sexual orientation, we arrived at our findings by first trying to work out the actual male/female ratio of respondents.
Looking at the sample above, the male and female ‘gender’ categories include the 16% trans-identified respondents and therefore represent a combination of those pupils stating their biological sex and those declaring their ‘gender identity.’ We don’t know if this question was put clearly to respondents, but from the wording above it appears not. This renders these categories meaningless. ‘Male’ and ‘female’ are biological sexes (not ‘genders’) but if students can just identify into one or the other we can’t measure the actual male/female ratio accurately.
Without knowing this, we obviously can’t ascertain the exact number of students who are actually lesbian or gay either: is a male who ‘self-identifies’ as a lesbian recorded as a lesbian or (accurately) as a heterosexual male? If we don’t acknowledge biological sex, we can’t define or record ‘same-sex’ sexual orientation. These are very important questions for gays and lesbians who are already being called ‘transphobic’ for not wanting a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex just because that person ‘identifies’ as the same sex. It is important that Stonewall clarifies this point for lesbian and gay students.
It is because of this lack of distinction between biological sex and gender identity in the Stonewall 2017 report that key findings have been missed or are obscured. To find out useful information, we had to try and separate them out.
We began by going through the data of the 2017 report and comparing it with the last Stonewall School Report in 2012 which was limited to LGB students only. In 2012 the categories were recorded as either ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ and only 2% of respondents identified as ‘trans’ compared with 16% in 2017, with a further 8% ‘questioning’ and 13% ‘non-binary.’
This means that a full 37% of LGBT pupils are now identifying under the ‘trans umbrella,’ making up over one third of the LGBT community: a massive expansion since 2012 when ‘trans’ was a very minor contributor.
In order to estimate the actual female/male ratio of the 16% of respondents who self-identify as ‘trans’ in this study, we used the latest referral figures from the Tavistock clinic as a guide. Based on the assumption that the ratio is likely to be similar, we calculated that out of 594 (16%) trans-identified kids, 416 are female (70%) and 178 are male (30%).
Because the percentage of girls referred to the Tavistock in the age group surveyed in this study is actually slightly higher than the 70% overall figure, and anecdotal evidence and media reports suggest that in schools there are clusters of teenage girls who identify as boys, but no corresponding clusters of boys, we think this is a legitimate estimate.
From this calculation we found that the ‘male gender’ and ‘female gender’ categories are likely composed like this:
One third of the ‘male gender’ group are actually biological females.
This adjustment suggests that the number of girls responding to this survey was more than double the number of boys. As this was a self-selecting survey (which tends to attract those who are invested in the subject matter) this suggests that boys who are gay may be having an easier time of it than LGBT girls, so that they are less likely to feel the need to fill in surveys like this.
We then compared statistics from 2012 and 2017 in the areas of Self Harm, Suicidal Ideas and Suicide Attempts. The result for ‘female gender’ (recorded as ‘girls’ in 2012) shows a slight increase in suicidal ideas but an actual drop in rates of self-harm and suicide attempts. (The small percentage of boys who make it into this category by virtue of self-identification (9%) makes no significant difference to these rates.)
This data is an anomoly: all other studies show that young women’s rates of self-harm and attempted suicide have increased significantly since 2012, at a greater rate than those for young men. NHS data shows that suicide attempts are more common for girls (13%) compared to boys (5%) in the general population ages 16-24.
The result is especially surprising given that being LGBT is an additional risk factor, so you would expect rates for lesbian and bi-sexual girls to be amongst the highest. Such an atypical result merits investigation: what is the explanation for these missing girls, where are they?
We didn’t have to look far. The ‘male gender’ category (previously recorded as ‘boys’) shows a significant rate increase in all three areas of self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts since 2012, along with a significant number of male-identified girls now swelling their ranks.
Our calculations suggest that for trans-identified GIRLS, 81% self harm, 100% have suicidal ideas and 40% have attempted suicide.
It’s just that they are now invisible.
Our calculations of the percentage rates for trans-identified females in this category are based on the 2012 percentages plus our estimates of the number of biological males versus biological females. For example, in 2012 57% of boys reported suicidal ideation, so we assumed 57% of the 846 biological males in the 2017 group, which is 482. In 2017, rates of suicidal ideation have increased to 71% of the whole ‘male gender’ category. 71% of 1,262 = 896, so if we assume 482 of those are biological males, the remaining 414 must be the trans-identified females. As there are only 416 females in this category, 99.5% must have reported suicidal feelings. We have rounded that figure up to 100%.
Our calculated figures of 81%, 100% and 40% closely match the figures reported by Stonewall for the whole category of trans-identified kids:
This group of trans-identified girls will, typically, be lesbians.
This matches what we know is happening in the wider society; lesbian culture is disappearing as queer and identity politics is on the ascendant. Is Stonewall concerned about this new form of ‘self-chosen’ gay conversion therapy encouraged by a trans activist agenda? As it becomes increasingly unfashionable to be a lesbian, are these girls hiding in the ‘queer’ and ‘other’ category which now makes up 17% of the sexual orientation stats? And if so, why is it so hard to be seen as a lesbian these days?
Our findings, based on educated estimates, are significant. We need meaningful accurate data in order to understand what we are seeing and to know where to allocate our resources and time. If we fail to record the biological sex of young people we are unable to try to understand why suddenly such a disproportionate number of young women want to ‘identify’ out of womanhood. Is ‘identifying as a boy’ just the latest coping mechanism for girls brought up in a culture where images of women being sexually abused in porn are casually passed around in playgrounds, and the internet ensures no escape from the pressure on girls to be ‘perfect’? And is the world so dangerous for lesbians that being seen as a man is a safer alternative?
Influence on Policy
Now we’ll get to the reasons why we need to examine carefully how useful the Stonewall report is in terms of shaping policy, particularly in schools. We agree that it is very important that public bodies understand the specific issues facing LGBT young people in order to be sensitive to their needs and to recognise the bullying they face. The report is useful in terms of hearing the words and experiences of young LGBT people themselves, which increases understanding and compassion. It is important that discrimination is recognised and challenged.
What is worrying is that a knee-jerk reaction to a high attempted suicide statistic could lead to policies that are not thought through and will impact on the rights and protections of other groups, in particular girls and young women. For example, Stonewall advises schools:
“Staff should work together with each trans young person to ask them what would make them feel comfortable and discuss levels of confidentiality, and ensure they have access to uniforms, activities and facilities they feel most comfortable in.”
In areas which are specifically sex-segregated, girls and young women may feel very uncomfortable if a biological male is present (toilets, changing-rooms) or unfairly discriminated against (sport) and it cannot be acceptable policy to strip girls of established rights and protections in order to make another group feel comfortable.
There is also the question of whether teachers will be forced to deny biological reality in order to ‘affirm’ a young person as the opposite sex (an untested approach informed by political activism and social change, not by research and evidence.) This will put teachers in the position of being complicit in promoting an ideology which results in young people taking hormones with irreversible effects, being medicalised for life and left infertile. It is essential that we recognise that agreeing with a girl that she is really a boy is a fundamentally different proposition to accepting a pupil’s gay, lesbian or bi sexual orientation; we should not conflate the two issues.
As well as guidance for schools, Stonewall has published policy recommendations for the Department of Education, Ofsted, Local Authorities and Trusts, Social Media and online platforms and the Department of Health, so this report potentially has a very far-reaching influence.
So the question we need to ask is: does their survey stand up to scrutiny in terms of figures and percentages that can be extrapolated into the wider population? In other words, is their sample representative and how did they ensure this?
We wrote to the author of the study, Dr Vasanti Jadva, Senior Research Associate of the Centre for Family Research, Universty of Cambridge, to find out information about the methodology of this survey. Although we received an initial reply from Dr Jadva telling us that there is no accompanying technical report available and no plans to make the data file available for secondary analysis as it holds potentiality identifiable data, we have had no reply to our subsequent email requesting more details. You can see our full letter here and here we will just sum up our main concerns.
In order to compare statistics from one study with general population statistics, you need the same controls so that you are comparing like with like.
The first point to make is that Stonewall’s online survey used what’s known as a ‘non probability sampling methodology.’ This kind of survey is commonly used to make a qualitative study rather than a quantative one. In other words, the data is used for a more in-depth understanding of issues (hence all the quoted experiences of pupils used by Stonewall) but not to produce accurate data and statistics which may be confidently extrapolated to the wider population. In studies of the broader population, rigorous controls are used.
There is no evidence that this study controlled for other significant indicators or risk factors for suicidal feelings, such as existing mental health problems, ASD, family problems, troubled background, being in care, or previous trauma or sexual abuse. (The study did control for some disadvantaged groups: BME pupils, the disabled and those from poorer economic backgrounds who receive free school meals). But when you are looking at the emotive subject of suicide, you have to be very careful not to attach just one reason for it and pre-existing mental health problems are an important factor to consider: over 90% of actual suicides are associated with a psychiatric disorder.
Results for questions about suicide also depend very much on the phrasing of the question. In population studies, there is always a follow-up interview with respondents, which typically cuts the number of ‘attempted suicide’ claims by about half. Suicide attempt figures may be inflated by a question with a yes/no answer, or if the question is not explained clearly. Unfortunately it is also the case that transgender organisations and activists, with the help of the media, are actively promoting the message that if ‘trans kids’ are not supported they will commit suicide. How much has this kind of message influenced children’s responses?
We do not know what (if any) quality control procedures were used to ensure that the responses were genuinely from children, or to eliminate fake respondents.
And lastly, because activists use the threat of ‘suicide’ as the reason we need to support young trans-identified people onto a path of puberty blockers and hormones, it is important to note that there was no recorded distinction in this survey between those already on blockers/hormones and those who were not. So there is no evidence to suggest that invasive medication helps. ‘Depression’ is in fact a potential side-effect of both blockers and hormones.
The Stonewall School Report essentially throws up more questions than it answers, if you are prepared to examine it critically. But there is one conclusion which is glaringly obvious. If you get rid of ‘sex’ and replace it with ‘gender identity’ the results of any research study will be meaningless, and much critical information will be lost. This is totally unacceptable and particularly so when your area of study is children and young people.