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A West Virginia University study found that the population of youth who do not identify with their sex at birth may be much higher than previous estimates.
“Gender-diverse youth are incredible young people, and — as our study found — many of them live in rural areas,” WVU School of Medicine researcher Dr. Kacie Kidd, one of the co-authors of the study, said in a press release Monday. “It is important that we ensure they have access to support so that they are able to thrive.”
Kidd’s comments come after researchers at the university anonymously surveyed close to 3,000 students in grades 7-12 in Appalachian region public schools, finding that more than 7% of respondents identified with a gender other than their sex at birth.
The findings follow a 2017 UCLA study that found West Virginia had the highest per capita rate of transgender youth in the country, estimating that just over 1% of the state’s youth identified with a gender other than their sex at birth. The WVU findings suggest that the 2017 study may have severely underestimated that number, which researchers say may be due to the lack of ability to reach youth in rural areas.
Kidd pointed to research she previously worked on that surveyed young people in Pittsburgh, which found that nearly 10% of youth in the Appalachian city had a “gender-diverse identity.”
“Despite the high prevalence of gender-diverse identities found in our Pittsburgh study, information about rural areas was still unknown,” Kidd said. “We suspect that many of the young people in rural Appalachia who shared their gender-diverse identities with us in this study may benefit from additional support, especially if they do not feel seen and supported at home and in their community.”
Kidd pointed out that the numbers could raise issues for public health officials, noting that gender-diverse youth are at increased risk of mental health disorders, suicide, and depression.
“Adolescent mental health is at a crisis point, according to the Centers for Disease Control,” Kidd said. “We have an access concern because so many young people need mental health services nationwide and we just don’t have enough mental health professionals to meet that need. It’s a growing problem and certainly gender-diverse youth are at an even greater risk.”
The research also comes as the state has been battling a lawsuit filed in 2020 against the state’s ban on using Medicaid for transgender surgical procedures.
According to a ruling last week by District Court Judge Robert C. Chambers, the state’s exclusion of gender transition surgeries for the treatment of gender dysphoria “invidiously discriminates on the basis of sex and transgender status.”
West Virginia is one of nine states with Medicaid rules that exclude covering transgender medical interventions, though officials in Ohio say their state’s ban is not enforced and an Arkansas ban only applies to minors. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration is currently considering a similar exclusion on covering transgender medical interventions such as puberty blockers, hormones, gender transition surgeries or “any other procedures that alter primary or secondary sexual characteristics,” according to reporting from The Hill.
Reached for comment by Fox News Digital Tuesday, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Director of Communications Allison Adler said the agency “is committed to administering the Medicaid Program, while maintaining accountability for the use of resources, in a way that assures access to appropriate, medically necessary, and quality health care services for all members.”
Adler declined to comment further, citing pending litigation.