Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Alexandra S. Potter


Gender diverse youth live in a landscape of discriminatory and harmful legislation, institutional discrimination in schools, the justice system, health systems, and public accommodations, as well as experiencing higher rates of peer and family rejection and victimization. In this context, gender diverse youth have elevated mental health problems compared to their peers. Greater distress experienced by gender diverse youth can be conceptualized using the minority stress model. The minority stress model describes specific stress related to institutional discrimination and victimization as well as expectations of rejection and internalization of society’s negative attitudes. While gender diversity is common and associated with victimization there are few studies to date that have examined the neural correlates of youth gender diversity and minority stress. The overarching aim of the current study was to examine, in a large community sample of youth, relationships between brain function and structure, experiences of stress and victimization, and gender diversity. There were four specific aims of the current project:1) Confirm that gender diversity in the sample was associated with elevated distress and external minority stress factors and determine if these relationships differed as a function of participant’s political climate, 2) Characterize the association between gender diversity and patterns of activation while viewing emotion faces during a fMRI (EN-Back) task, 3) Examine how external factors at multiple levels (school, peer, family, and societal) relate to brain function during the EN-Back task and gender diversity 4) Investigate if changes in family conflict are associated with structural brain development (specifically hippocampal and amygdalae volume reductions) across time; and how gender diversity affected this relationship. We found that gender diversity was associated with elevated mental health symptoms and minority stress factors including negative perceptions of school environments; higher rates of peer victimization; and less parental and other caregiver acceptance. Relationships among these variables did not differ based on political climate. Stress factors were all related to mental health outcomes. Regarding aim 2, gender diversity was not significantly associated with task activation while youth were viewing feeling faces. Due to there being no significant associations between task activation and gender diversity, the proposed analyses for aim 3 were not conducted. The findings for aim 4 included that gender-diverse youth had greater increases in family conflict across time and slower hippocampal volume growth across time than youth who were not gender diverse. Policy implications to better protect and celebrate gender diverse youth are discussed.



Number of Pages

134 p.

Available for download on Thursday, September 11, 2025