Nikki Haley’s grotesque, and wrong, attempt to link trans youth to suicide among teen girls

Haley showed she doesn’t care enough about high rates of suicide among teenage girls to take the matter seriously, and she’s willing to stigmatize transgender youth who face even higher suicide rates

Republican presidential candidates like Nikki Haley clearly see transgender youth as political targets – chum for an easily fearmongered voting base addicted to cruelty.

The former South Carolina governor, during a CNN town hall Sunday, made a fact-free and vile connection between the existence of transgender youth and the rise in suicides among teenage girls: “How are we supposed to get our girls used to the fact that biological boys are in their locker rooms? And then they wonder why a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide last year.”

Nikki Haley, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, at the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 3, 2023.

With that comment, Haley showed she doesn’t care enough about high rates of suicide among teenage girls to take the matter seriously, and she’s more than willing to stigmatize transgender youth, who face even higher rates of suicide. It’s the kind of quality nobody seeks in a political leader: utter disregard for young people.

Nikki Haley is fabricating a connection to stigmatize transgender kids

Let’s start with suicides rates among teenage girls. Haley is correct in saying that “a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide,” though she’s wrong that it was “last year.” The statistic comes from a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in April that found: “Approximately one third (30.0%) of female students in 2021 reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months before the survey.”

So Haley was off by a year or so, but that’s a minor factual error compared with the rest of her comment.

Most important is the fact that nowhere in the CDC’s comprehensive study is there even a suggestion that suicide attempts or suicidal ideation are correlated in any way with transgender issues. In fact, the study specifically notes the prevalence of youth who “seriously considered attempting suicide” was “significantly higher among LGBQ+ female students … compared with heterosexual students.”

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The youth suicide study Haley referenced actually calls for more LGBTQ+ inclusion

The study cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a possible explanation for rising youth suicide rates, saying increased “social isolation and anxiety” might have led “to the onset or exacerbation of adolescent mental health concerns and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

An earlier CDC report about the rise in suicide attempts, released in February, noted that 18% of teenage girls "experienced sexual violence in the past year – up 20% since 2017, when CDC started monitoring this measure." It also found that 14% of teenage girls reported that they were forced to have sex, "up 27% since 2019 and the first increase since CDC began monitoring this measure."

Girls and female teens are experiencing 
a greater percentage increase in suicide rates compared with male youth.

On the higher risk of suicide among “LGBQ+” youth, the April CDC study noted: “Creating a safe and supportive school environment for LGBQ+ students by implementing gay and straight alliances, training teachers on LGBQ+ inclusivity, and using an LGBQ+ curriculum, has been associated with lower odds for suicide-related thoughts and behaviors among LGBQ+ students.”

In other words, the data point Haley brought up comes from a study that doesn’t link transgender girls in locker rooms to increased suicide among cisgender teenage girls and, in fact, suggests that inclusive polices help reduce suicide rates among transgender youth.

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Republicans have decided that ginning up 'transgender hysteria' is a winning message

It’s also worth noting that while Republicans like Haley attempt to leverage some kind of “transgender hysteria” for political gain, the number of transgender youth in America is miniscule. 

A 2022 report by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law found that 0.6% of Americans 13 and older identify as transgender. Among youth ages 13 to 17, “1.4% (about 300,000 youth) identify as transgender.”

Rally for transgender rights on March 31, 2023, in Topeka, Kan.

That’s 300,000 young people in a nation of more than 333 million. And that number plummets when you filter it down to transgender girls who want to play middle-school or high-school sports.

An Associated Press report in 2021 noted: “Legislators in more than 20 states have introduced bills this year that would ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ sports teams in public high schools. Yet in almost every case, sponsors cannot cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems.”

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Demonizing young trans people for political gain is about as sick as it gets

Haley’s claim is nonsense, and like all the anti-transgender rhetoric spouted by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates, it serves only one purpose: anger people who don’t know better while harming young people who are simply trying to exist.

USA TODAY Opinion columnist Rex Huppke.There are plenty of problems that pose real threats to our children: gun violence; bullying; food insecurity; a lack of funding for schools. And, of course, youth suicide.

But transgender kids aren’t behind any of these problems. They’re just an easy target for opportunistic politicians.

And any politician who would trample over those kids in a vain attempt to curry favor with voters is nothing but a hate-peddling penny waiting for change.

Follow USA TODAY columnist Rex Huppke on Twitter @RexHuppke and Facebook

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