NEW YORK — Despite the strides the LGBTQ community has made in the United States over the last year, juvenile justice and foster care systems are still not equitable for LGBTQ youth, who also combat homelessness.
This was the thrust of a discussion in Manhattan on Wednesday night between representatives from advocacy groups Lambda Legal and Children's Rights with host Molly Gochman. Two dozen people assembled on a rooftop to hear about the state of LGBTQ youth.
LGBTQ youth make up 6 percent of the general population, Gochman said. But that group represents 14 percent of juvenile incarcerations and 40 percent of homeless population and have a heightened risk for sexual and physical abuse, she said.
"We are at a moment where you can think things are getting better and they are," said Currey Cook, senior attorney with Lambda Legal and director of the Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project. He expects more same-sex foster parents for LGBTQ youth because marriage is a requirement in some states for foster families and those would-be foster parents can now marry nationwide.
"We need to make sure the moment trickles down to the kids," Cook said.
Gochman, an artist whose Red Sand Project focused on bringing attention to human trafficking, said she came to the issue of LGBTQ youth in foster care through her work.
“It’s something that happens over there, in Southeast Asia and Africa,” she said, describing how she first understood trafficking. She started working with Children’s Rights several years ago after discovering how many American youths are in the system, with 60 percent of sexually trafficked kids coming out of foster care.
Christina Wilson Remlin, a senior staff attorney at Children’s Rights, pointed to a study showing that 70 percent of LGBTQ youths said they experienced physical violence in group homes. Group home violence leads to them running away and living on the streets. Once homeless, Remlin said, it takes 72 hours before a homeless youth has to commit a crime to survive. That puts them at a higher risk of dealing with authorities and ultimately being arrested.
Incarcerated youths are already more likely to be minorities, poorer than the general public with a higher level of developmental challenges.
"You’re already talking about a fragile group of kids and then when you layer LGBT on top of it," Remlin said. "You create an absolute disaster."
"The bottom line is juvenile facilities are not safe for any juveniles, but especially not LGBTQ," Cook added.
There are currently no federal policies to protect LGBTQ incarcerated juveniles from discrimination. Some states and cities have policies that put curriculum in place to train juvenile incarceration facilities and foster parents on the issues LGBTQ youths experience and how that experience differs from the youth population at large.
"There are some glimmers of hope,” Cook said. “NYC is one of them."
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