LGBTQ Youth

Section 1.10

Judicial, Legal, Law Enforcement, Justice, Social Service and School Professionals Should Ensure that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning (LGBTQ) Youth Who are Charged with Status Offenses Receive Fair Treatment, Equal Access to Services, and Respect and Sensitivity from all Professionals and Other Youth in Court, Agency, Service, School and Placement

LGBTQ and Status Offenses
Fact Sheet from CJJ,
Human Rights Campaign &
The Equity Project

LGBTQ youth1 are over-represented in the juvenile justice system, are more likely to be seriously maltreated by other youth in the system, and may receive excessive punishments, including secure confinement due to court biases or misguided attempts to keep these youth “safe."2  LGBTQ youth faced increased risks of being rejected by their families and bullied and harassed at school, which can lead to running away and truancy.3

Families should be treated as potential allies in supporting LGBTQ youth.4 Targeted interventions can work to change the behavior of families that are not initially accepting of LGBTQ children, and research shows that even small improvements in family acceptance of LGBTQ youth can lead to better physical and mental health outcomes.5  For this reason, it is essential that LGBTQ youth and their families are offered support services and that every effort is made to keep youth in their homes whenever it is safe to do so.  Youth and their families must also receive necessary supports and services to avoid court involvement altogether.  Detention facilities and residential placements must be made LGBTQ-affirming to reduce victimization among youth who may need to be placed out of their homes.

LGBTQ youth faced increased risks of being rejected by their families and bullied and harassed at school, which can lead to running away and truancy.3

System professionals can ensure fair treatment of LGBTQ youth by taking the following steps:

  • Identify when youth are entering the system due to alienation, exclusion, or persecution at home, in foster care or group homes, in the community or at school, due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Ensure steps are taken to preserve youth safety and well-being, which includes protecting confidentiality, rather than forcing them back into a hostile environment, keeping in mind that youth generally do better in their own homes when safe, and that some targeted intervention strategies have been shown to increase acceptance and improve behavior of parents and guardians and support in families who initially reject their LGBTQ children.6
  • Ensure that LGBTQ youth receive appropriate services, such as connecting youth to affirming social, recreational and spiritual opportunities, and that confidentiality is respected.
  • Ensure that LGBTQ youth have access to care consistent with best practices for these populations.7
  • In situations where family rejection is an issue because parents/caregivers reject the youth based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, ensure that counseling and other services are offered to the whole family, that every effort is made to keep children with their families, and that alternative supportive residential arrangements are made when caregivers are unwilling to re-engage despite being offered or participating in appropriate interventions.
  • Review nationally available best practice standards, such as those available from Child Welfare League of America and the National Center for Lesbian Rights/Legal Services for Children8 to ensure that your organization is doing all it can to meet LGBTQ youths’ needs, ensuring that schools, homes and if necessary residential placements are safe environments, and that attempts to ensure safety are not isolating, stigmatizing or punitive, e.g., placing an LGBTQ youth in seclusion to “protect” him/her.
  • Recognize and acknowledge that experiences at home, in placement, in school, the community, and in the juvenile justice system may have been traumatic, and that LGBTQ youth may need support, intervention, or treatment for trauma.
  • On an individual level, professionals must treat all youth, including those who identify as LGBTQ or non-gender conforming, with respect and fairness.  Youth should be allowed to express their identity through choice of clothing, hairstyle and nicknames without encountering pressure or judgment.

 

Having a written nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy is also essential.9 These policies can address issues such as prohibiting harassment of youth or staff who are LGBTQ or gender non-conforming, requiring the use of respectful and inclusive language, and determining how gender rules (e.g., usage of “male or “female” bathrooms, gender-based room assignments) will be addressed for transgender and gender nonconforming youth. Programs should also provide clients and staff with training and helpful written materials.10


1 Youth may also identify themselves as intersex, two-spirit (which refers to a belief in the existence of cross-gender roles with Native American traditions, based in a teaching that some people are gifted because they carry two spirits, one male and one female) or in other ways.  Although the principles in this section may still apply, the term LGBTQ is used throughout because the research discussed has focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and in some cases transgender or questioning youth.

2  Minter, S. & Jeff Krehely (2011) “Families Matter: New Research Calls for a Revolution in Public Policy for LGBT Children and Youth.” Washington DC: Center for American Progress. Available at: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/report/2011/02/07/9117/families-matter/; Majd, K.,  Marksamer, J., and Carolyn Reyes. (2009) "Hidden Injustice: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Juvenile Courts." Available at: http://equityproject.org/pdfs/hidden_injustice.pdf.

3 Id.

4 Minter, S., & Jeff Krehely (2011) “Families Matter: New Research Calls for a Revolution in Public Policy for LGBT Children and Youth.” Washington DC: Center for American Progress. Available at: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/report/2011/02/07/9117/families-matter/.

5 Id.

6 Id.

7 For more on medical and other issues relevant to LGBT youth, see Majd,K.,  Marksamer, J., and Carolyn Reyes. (2009) “Hidden Injustice: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Juvenile Courts.” Available at: http://equityproject.org/pdfs/hidden_injustice.pdf.

9 Several model policies can be found at: http://equityproject.org/resources.html.

10 For links to resources for professionals and LGBT youth see “The Equity Project” at http://equityproject.org/resources.html.

 

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