Report: W.Va. leads nation in transgender teens per capita

Published: Feb. 24, 2017 at 11:31 AM EST
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UPDATE 2/24/17 @ 6:55 p.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia is one of the leading states for the number of teenagers per capita who identify as transgender, according to a survey by The Williams Institute.

The report, published in an article by the New York Times, says one in every 137 American teenagers would identify as transgender.

West Virginia and Hawaii lead the nation with about 1 in 100 teenagers aged 13 to 17.

Ohio has 0.76 percent, according to the survey, and Kentucky has 0.65 percent.

"I think it's great," said Shaunte Polk, sponsored program administrator for the Office of Intercultural Affairs at Marshall University. "I think it's wonderful and I think it's really a great and bold move, especially for our kids in West Virginia, so I'm very, very happy."

Polk tells WSAZ she's not surprised that West Virginia leads the survey, she was just surprised at how many teens are coming out in general.

It's a positive surprise, she says, especially in a traditionally conservative state.

"If you think about it, West Virginia has not always been seen in a positive light," said Polk. "But to me, this is a joyous moment."

She works at the LGBTQ+ office at the university -- a safe space, Polk says, for students who are transgender. Although she works with college-aged students, she says the results of this survey are inspiring for the younger kids.

"I think that is absolutely amazing," Polk said. "When you think about children that age actually being comfortable to say, 'Yes, I am [transgender].'"

Inclusion has always been a passion for Polk. She is proud to contribute to the safe environment at the university.

She looked at an LGBTQ+ program with pride and said, "I cannot stand by and let people be mistreated."

The office works on many projects and programs, but one that is just wrapping up Friday is the "trans closet." Polk says they have been collecting clothes throughout the month. All of the clothes, bags, nail polish and more are donated from people on campus and beyond.

Friday is the last day for people to donate items, but Polk says she will bend the rules a little bit for people who still want to stop by and give on Monday. The office is already packed with piles of clothes.

"I think that this closet really shows the amount of support that we have," Polk said.

Once they are done collecting, the clothes and other items will be sorted. Transgender students will be able to stop by the office and take items for free and without the fear of being judged that often comes with shopping in public.

Polk says Marshall has an extremely inclusive campus, with faculty members who are not afraid to be advocates for students. In fact, she said a couple years ago, Marshall was named the most LGBTQ+ friendly campus in the state.

"It has great people," Polk said. "It has great offices that support our LGBTQ+ students, and you can't wish for, hope for anything more. So definitely Marshall has always been in the forefront of diversity inclusion in my opinion and they will continue to be so for many years after that."

It's not just LGBTQ+ students who are encouraged to embrace who they are. Polk says it is a diverse campus filled with students of all races and international students as well.

"We're just a welcoming campus," Polk said. "It's just amazing cause you can walk outside, and we are a huge melting pot."

Polk also gives credit to Marshall University President Jerome A. Gilbert for top-down leadership for embracing diversity.

The office and counseling center will also do "safe space" training, Polk said, for outside groups and businesses who want to learn more about being an LGBTQ+ friendly workplace or environment.

Also in the survey, Connecticut and Iowa have the lowest share at 1 in every 250.


NEW YORK (WSAZ) -- An article by the New York Times has cited a report saying one in every 137 American teenagers would identify as transgender.

The report, conducted by The Williams Institute, says there are an estimated 149,750 transgender teenagers in the United States.

West Virginia and Hawaii lead the nation in transgender teens per capita, with about 1 in 100 teenagers from 13 to 17 estimated to be transgender.

Connecticut and Iowa have the lowest share at 1 in every 250.