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Supporting LGBTQI-GNC Youth within the Juvenile Justice System

Thursday, June 30, 2016
Courtesy of Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

As Pride Month comes to a close, here at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) we applaud those who have worked so passionately to advance the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Intersexual, or Gender Non-Conforming (LGBTQI-GNC) community. The tragedy in Orlando earlier this month is a sad reminder of the threats faced by this group and underscores why our work to support this community is so important.

At OJJDP we envision a nation where all children are healthy, educated, and free from violence. If they come into contact with the juvenile justice system, the contact should be rare, fair, and beneficial to them.

We know that LGBTQI-GNC youth are at greater risk of becoming homeless, being sexually, physically, and mentally abused, and dying by suicide—due to isolation, social stigma, harassment, bullying, and lack of stable identity development. These factors also increase their chances of becoming involved in the justice system. It is estimated that LGBTQI-GNC youth represent roughly 7 percent of the United States’ youth population, but some studies suggest they may comprise more than 15 percent of the juvenile justice-involved population.

Within the system, LGBTQI-GNC youth continue to face discrimination and abuse, whether they are under court supervision or in residential placements. Their unique needs are often neglected and dismissed because they are inadequately protected and the professionals that we entrust to care for them are inadequately trained.

Here are some of OJJDP’s activities on behalf of LGBTQI-GNC youth.

In November 2014 we sponsored a listening session on Creating and Sustaining Fair and Beneficial Environments for LGBTQ Youth, which brought together experts and youth advocates to share their experiences. It is my hope that the information shared in the resulting report will enhance the national conversation on LGBTQI-GNC youth issues and improve the lives of these young people for years to come.

Additionally, we’re supporting research projects to help us better understand how to address the needs of LGBTQI-GNC youth. One such project, funded by OJJDP and led by the Urban Institute, explored the experiences of LGBTQ youth engaged in survival sex in New York City. This study found that 70 percent of the 283 youth surveyed had been arrested at least once, nearly half reported living in a shelter, and another 10 percent said they lived on the street.

In September 2015 we awarded a grant to Impact Justice to analyze the disparities in the pathways into incarceration for LGBTQI-GNC girls arrested for prostitution. This two-phase analysis will include a survey of more than 4,000 incarcerated California youth, a national scan of laws regarding commercial sexual exploitation of children, and an assessment of the gender and sexual orientation of youth of color in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

Beyond these research efforts, OJJDP also maintains a steadfast focus on improving the lives of LGBTQI-GNC youth through our mentoring programs. Organizations funded under our Mentoring Opportunities for Youth program and Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Sex Trafficking initiative are providing high-quality mentoring services to LGBTQI-GNC youth.

We also support LGBTQI-GNC youth through our training and technical assistance programs for states. And some states, such as Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Michigan, have taken a lead in recognizing the needs of the LGBTQI-GNC population and have taken action through legislation to improve their treatment. Hawaii and Massachusetts, for example, have enacted policies that establish operational guidelines for the fair and equal treatment of LGBTQI-GNC youth. Other states have added non-discrimination language to their policies to protect these youth, often expanding the definition of “sex” to include sexual orientation and “gender” to include gender expression or identity.

OJJDP continues to stand behind the LGBTQI-GNC community. Because these youth are often ignored or targeted, with very few laws to protect them, we recognize that a comprehensive approach is needed to better serve this population. We look forward to working with our federal, state, and local partners to support initiatives to ensure the safety of these and all youth in the juvenile justice system.

Please stay tuned to OJJDP.gov and subscribe to our news services – JUVJUST and OJJDP News @ a Glance – to learn more about how OJJDP is working to serve the LGBTQI-GNC youth population.

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