Contrary to the common refrain of "it gets better," a new report finds that the unique challenges facing LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming youth actually make them more susceptible to engagement with our justice system when compared to their straight, cisgender peers, particularly among queer and trans youth of color.
Twenty percent of young people in the American juvenile and criminal justice systems identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or gender-nonconforming, according to a report co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and the Center for American Progress (CAP). Eighty-five percent of those young people are also people of color. This figure is troubling, and disproportionate to the 7–9% of young people who identify as LGBTQ or GNC in the general population.
Naomi Goldberg, MAP's Policy & Research Director who served as lead author of "Unjust: How the Broken Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems Fail LGBT Youth," told me that there is no one specific cause for this overrepresentation.
Rather, there are a host of factors ranging from anti-LGBTQ stigma and unsafe schools to the racially discriminatory enforcement of laws that work together to make it all the more likely that young LGBTQ people, especially those who are also people of color, will enter our justice systems in the first place.
"The more we understand this cycle, the better we will understand how to keep LGBTQ youth out of it," Goldberg said. "These kids are being rejected by parents and pushed into child welfare, which pushes kids into the juvenile justice system. They might engage in survival sex, which might result in increased interaction with law enforcement. In school, they face high rates of bullying and harassment, which sets them up for a path of lower grades, lower aspirations, and skipping school. Combined with school discipline policies that may target LGBTQ youth, schools become a school-to-prison pipeline."
You can read the full report—released Tuesday in partnership with the Advancement Project, Forward Together, GLSEN, GSA Network, JustLeadershipUSA, National LGBTQ Task Force, True Colors, and Youth First—here.
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