LGBT Youth Exist, are Overrepresented in the Foster Care & Juvenile Systems, and Deserve Protections

 

Despite campaigning on promises to protect and support the LGBTQ community, the Trump Administration has sought out to harm LGBT folks since his inauguration in 2017 weaponizing various policy initiatives and a cabinet of notoriously anti-LGBTQ politicians against the community. While largely aimed at LGBTQ adults, these attacks have also hurt LGBT youth. Despite making up only 9.5 percent of youth in the US, percent of LGBTQ Youth are disproportionality represented in both the Foster Care and Juvenile Systems. In a recent study of California youth grades 6-12, researchers found over 30% of youth living in foster care identified as LGBTQ. While not widely researched, it is estimated that 20% of all youth in juvenile justice facilities are LGB. Additionally, LGBT Youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness. These youth are particularly vulnerable youth are in dire need of increased protections, and the incoming Biden-Harris administration is in an excellent position to provide just that.

The Obama administration did some work to help LGBT youth, including issuing anti-bullying guidance through the Department of Education and a Dear Colleague letter containing legal guidelines that reaffirmed the rights of LGBT youth in schools. These advancements, at the time seemingly indicative of progress tirelessly pursued by the LGBTQ community, were quickly stripped away by the Trump administration.
Trump Administration’s Harmful Policies Affecting LGBT Youth

  • The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education revoked the Obama Administration’s guidance detailing school obligations to transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 197
  •  Housing and Urban Development (HUD), withdrew two notices impacting LGBT people: the first requirement for emergency shelters receiving HUD funding to post information about LGBTQ people’s rights to access shelter safely, and the second being critical data collection and implementation guidelines for a homelessness prevention initiative targeting LGBTQ youth.
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) attempted to remove language protecting the rights of LGBTQ folks to access programs funded by HHS including child welfare services and openly announced protections would only be granted to types of discrimination already banned by federal statute. In 2019, at the time of this announcement, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity were not yet statutorily protected. Shortly thereafter the Trump administration issued a waiver to the same effect to the state of South Carolina, prompting outrage from the House Ways and Means Committee for the “intentional” violation of a congressional mandate to act in the best interests of children. The combined result of these actions was that otherwise qualified families could be turned away-with little to no recourse- from adopting or fostering youth from federally funded welfare programs on the basis of the prospective parent(s)’ sexual or gender identity, leaving LGBT youth with even fewer options for loving, affirming homes. HHS rule overturning Obama-era protections against LGBT discrimination in healthcare. The rule would have allowed the HHS to adhere to biological definitions of sex meaning male or female, completely disregarding an earlier regulation that accounted for an individual’s gender identity. Fortunately, a federal judge blocked the ruling stating that the move directly opposed the SCOTUS decision in Bostock v. Clayton County.
  • Ed Dept. memo that Bostock ruling doesn’t apply to children or Title IX cases (though the memo does state that Bostock may be used to guide cases depending on circumstance)
  • HUD allowance for discrimination against transgender individuals and youth in single-sex accommodations for homeless individuals.

Today, the Biden-Harris administration has the opportunity to step-up and help protect LGBT youth, and so far it looks like they might do just that. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued a sweeping executive order protecting LGBTQ folks from discrimination in schools, housing, the workplace and healthcare. Though the order falls directly in line with the June 2020 SCOTUS ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, backlash from conservative and religious groups alike have begun, with both groups claiming their rights – or those of women – are being erased or threatened by the choice to uphold LGBTQ rights. While promises to pass the hotly contested Equality Act within the first 100 days of his presidency have recently been rescinded due to difficulties with a newly democratic senate, the Biden administration remains openly optimistic that the act will be passed sooner rather than later, codifying protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity into federal law in the areas of federally funded programs and public accommodations which are not covered under the most recent executive order.

The Human Rights Campaign has set forth a list of demands for the new administration, which includes calls to protect LGBTQ youth in foster care, create a comprehensive federal definition of bullying which would include sexual orientation and gender identity, and an end to the violent practice of conversion therapy. This is especially important for LGBT youth, considering that in 2020, of the 10% of LGBT youth that reported undergoing conversion therapy, roughly 78% of them reported their experiences took place before age 18. The practice has long been debunked as an effective method of “therapy” and instead carries an increased risk of suicide for those who have been subjected to it. Once more, this risk is amplified in youth. The passage of the Equality Act would address this as well as the neglect and harm experienced by LGBT youth in foster care, homeless shelters, and the criminal justice system. Only time can tell for sure whether or not Biden will honor the promises to push for total equality made on the campaign trail, but to those watching closely, this presidential term already seems promising.

LGBTQ Homeless Youth at Risk, Part 1 of 3

image1Homeless youth, sometimes referred to as “unaccompanied” youth, are individuals under the age of 18 who lack parental, foster, or institutional care. Youth become homeless for a variety of reasons, but rarely by choice. Factors contributing to youth homelessness include family dysfunction, sexual abuse, “aging out” of the foster care system, exiting the juvenile justice system, and economic hardship. According to data from The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, close to 1.7 million youth are homeless because they either ran away from home or were kicked out of their home.

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence cites the primary cause of youth homelessness as family dysfunction in the form of parental neglect, physical or sexual abuse, family substance abuse and family violence. Furthermore, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness reports that twenty-five percent of former foster youth became homeless within four years of exiting care.

Data from the Williams Institute indicates that between twenty and forty percent of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBTQ. Forty-three percent of clients served by drop-in centers identified as LGBTQ. Thirty percent of street outreach clients identified as LGBTQ. Thirty percent of clients utilizing housing programs identified as LGBTQ. In short, LGBTQ youth make up a large percentage of the overall homeless youth population.

The roots of LGBTQ youth homelessness are similar to their non-LGBTQ peers. The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, et al., report that the most common factor contributing to LGBTQ homelessness is family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Similarly, the second most common factor is being forced out by parents or caretakers after coming out. At school LGBTQ students often face harassment–both physical and verbal–which leads to high dropout rates and a greater risk of chronic homelessness. Gay and transgender students are two-times less likely to finish high school or pursue a college education compared to the national average; seventy-five percent of LGBTQ homeless youth drop out before completing high school.

Generally, homeless youth are at greater risk of psychological and physical trauma. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics show that 61.8% of homeless youth report depression, 71.7% report experiencing major trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, and 79.5% experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for more than a month. Homeless youth are already a vulnerable population, but for the twenty to forty percent of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning), the situation is even more dire.

Once homeless, LGBTQ youth report a greater risk of victimization as a result of physical and emotional violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Unaware of the biological complexity of sex and gender, many people discriminate against transgender people on the basis of ethnic, religious and cultural values. Transgender youth face the most extreme threats to their safety due to a lack of acceptance. Additionally:

  • Eighty-six percent of LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed at school due to their sexual orientation
  • Forty-four percent of LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation
  • Twenty-two percent of LGBTQ  students reported having been physically attacked in school
  • Sixty percent of the students who were physically attacked in school said they did not report the incidents because they thought no one would care
  • Thirty-one percent of LGBTQ students who did report incidents of harassment and violence at school to staff claim they received no response

All too often, the service organizations that serve homeless youth fall woefully short of supporting LGBTQ homeless youth. Exacerbated by family dysfunction and high drop out rates, LGBTQ youth are disproportionately homeless due to overt discrimination when seeking alternative housing. Reports of widespread discrimination in federally funded institutions are often cited as a major contributing factor to the recent epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. Overt discrimination is not unheard of: in some instances signs are posted barring transgender homeless youth from accessing services, or they are kicked out of shelters when their transgender identity is discovered.

There are currently no federal programs specifically designed to meet the needs of gay and transgender homeless youth, and there are no protections in place to keep gay and transgender youth from being discriminated against while accessing federally funded homeless services. The Obama administration is aware of and making an effort to respond to the growing rates of LGBTQ youth homelessness, but there is a chasm between program recommendations and program implementation.

[This article is part 1 in a series of 3 articles on LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 1 identifies origins and challenges for LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 2 identifies federal, state, and local initiatives aimed at LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 3 summarizes best practices and offers a state & local approach based on best practices.]