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Parents of Transgender Children Play Key Role in Support, Mental Health, Safety

Chris Bolt/WAER News

Pride week in Syracuse has activities and an overall theme to raise awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community.  But not all recognition and progress on equality is the same. 

Many people have grown more accepting of the L-G-B parts -- lesbian,  gay and bisexual -- with friends, family members and coworkers.   But experts say the T --  transgender -- continues to be more problematic.   Marriage and family therapist Deb Coolhart is a professor at Syracuse University's Falk School. She finds parents, when finding out a child is trans, can face some very real fears.

“We don’t live in a society that really understands or supports trans-people.  Parents worry about their kids experiencing discriminating.  Some of those fear I think are realistic because trans-people do face a lot of discrimination.  And then some of it is not knowing, ‘Is our family going to accept this?  Is our community going to accept this?’”

Deborah Coolhart is a Marriage and Family Therapy Professor in Syracuse University's Falk School.

Coolhart has studied transgender children and families…and she’s identified serious problems when a parent is not supportive of a child who ‘comes out’ as transgender.

“So it’s increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicidality.  The suicide attempt rate in the trans population is extraordinarily high.  About 40% of trans adults have attempted suicide in their lifetime.  Homelessness, more trouble with jobs, all of it.  It seems like if parents do not support their kids they have just a generally more difficult time across multiple facets of life. 

Coolhart says over the past couple decades parents who find out a child is gay have become more excepting and supporting.  She acknowledges a transgender child presents certain issues.

“It’s absolutely normal for parents to go through an emotional process that involves fear like we’ve talked about and also loss.  They’re losing the expectations that they had for their life and that’s really normal.  And at the same time, for them to support their child is of the utmost importance.”

Research, she contends, has found that the biggest protective factor of the child’s mental health is parental support.  The most public struggle around Transgender rights has been issues with bathrooms…which Coolhart says remains important to solve.  As for overall acceptance, She sees some gains.

“I think we’ve made a huge amount of progress in the past 10 years and there’s so much more to go.  I mean, maybe we’ve made 10% progress.  At this point I think most people have heard the term but the general perceptions are still pretty negative.  We have a lot of room to grow in terms of understanding that these are just people.”

She hopes acceptance of trans children and adults can follow a similar trajectory as acceptance of gay and lesbian people, who have gained rights such as gay marriage and anti-discrimination protections.


6/16 @ 6:00 - 9:00 p.m.  Festival Pre-Party, Aloft Hotel, Syracuse

6/17 GAY 5-K run/walk, registration @ 8:00 a.m., Run/Walk @ 9:00 a.m.  Long Branch Park, Syracuse

6/17 @ 11:00 a.m. CNY Pride Parade, Solar Street Parking Lot of Destiny USA.

6/17 @ 12:00n - 5:00 p.m. CNY Pride Festival, Syracuse Inner Harbor

Information about Pride week activities can be found here

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.