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anti-transgender legislation, bathroom use, gender-expansive, gender minority youth, health disparities, transgender


Purpose: In this study, we explored experiences and feelings of safety in public facilities in relation to psychological well-being among transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) youth in the Midwest in the summer of 2016, in the context of ongoing legislative proposals and regulations regarding school and public bathroom use in the United States.

Methods: We used a mixed-method approach, with (1) a self-administered, paper-and-pencil survey of 120 TGNC youth, focusing on differences of self-esteem, resilience, quality of life (QoL), perceived stigma, feelings of safety, and experiences of public facility use and (2) two focus group interviews (n = 9) in which TGNC youth discussed individual perceptions, attitudes, and experiences of bathroom use outside participants’ homes. The samples consisted predominantly of individuals assigned female at birth and currently of trans-masculine identity.

Results: TGNC youth in our sample who reported that they had felt unsafe in bathrooms due to appearance or gender identity had significantly lower levels of resilience (mean(felt safe) = 125.7 vs. mean(felt unsafe) = 116.1; p = 0.03, Cohen’s d = 0.44) and QoL (mean(felt safe) = 59.1 vs. mean(felt unsafe) = 51.9; p = 0.04, Cohen’s d = 0.39), compared to those who felt safe. Meanwhile, feeling unsafe in bathrooms was associated with a greater level of perceived LGBT stigma (mean(felt safe) = 2.3 vs. mean(felt unsafe) = 2.6; p = 0.03, Cohen’s d = 0.41) and problematic anxiety in the past year (𝜒2 (1) = 4.06; p = 0.04). Individuals in the focus groups provided specific examples of their experiences of and concerns about locker room or bathroom use in public facilities, and on the impact of school bathroomrelated policies and legislation on them.

Conclusion: Perceptions of safety related to bathroom use are related to psychological well-being among TGNC youth. Our predominantly trans-masculine youth sample indicated that choice of bathroom and locker room use is important and that antiharassment policies need to support students’ use of their choice of bathrooms. This is particularly important information given debate of so-called bathroom bills, which attempt to restrict public bathroom use for TGNC youth, creating less choice and more stress and fear among these individuals.