It’s an optimistic headline: “Prison Rape: Obama’s Program to Stop It”. It leads into a comprehensive New York Review of Books article on three recently released Federal government publications. Two of these documents examine sexual abuse in the nation’s detention centers while the other outlines the Department of Justice’s regulations for eliminating prison rape. All three aim to address the appalling number of people—young and old, female and male, citizen and those awaiting deportation— who routinely suffer sexual violence while in lockup, an estimated 209,000 plus every year according to the Justice Department. So where’s the optimism?
CHICAGO – After the Williams Institute, True Colors Fund and the Palette Fund released a critical study on LGBT youth homelessness last month, Chicago-based experts have weighed in and offered reaction to the study’s findings that 40 percent of homeless youth identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender and many agencies designed to meet their needs have failed to adequately address pressing concerns. The study, conducted between October 2011 and March 2012, was designed to assess how homeless youth organizations provide services to LGBT youth. (See related story)
About 380 respondents from 354 agencies that serve homeless youth participated in the web-based survey. Overall, the study found that the current network of homeless youth providers “is not adequately addressing the needs of gay and transgender homeless youth,” according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The survey showed about 30 percent of homeless using housing-related services—emergency shelters and transitional living programs—were LGBT.
A disproportionate number of LGBT teens are represented in the nation’s juvenile justice system, possibly making up as much as 15 percent of the total juvenile justice population in the United States, according to a representative of the Center for American Progress. The findings were discussed last month in Washington, D.C. at an event sponsored by the National Council on Crime & Delinquency and titled “Unfair Criminalization of LGBT Youth.”
Aisha Moodie-Mills, a LGBT policy and racial justice advisor at the Center for American Progress, presented findings on behalf of Dr. Angela Irvine, one of four authors of “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Youth and the Juvenile Justice System.” The results from the report, which were published in the 2011 book, “Juvenile Justice: Advancing Research, Policy, and Practice,” state that while gay and transgender teens make up only 5 to 7 percent of the total youth population, they represent an estimated 13 to 15 percent of the population of young people involved with the nation’s juvenile justice system. Moderating the event, Moodie-Mills said that stressors from family and school could potentially make LGBT teens more vulnerable than the general population to violence, prostitution and homelessness. Shortly after the event, survey findings from a joint project involving the Williams Institute, the Palette Fund and the True Colors Fund found that almost 40 percent of the nation’s homeless or at-risk youth are gay or transgender. Panelist Maya Rupert, a representative of the National Council for Lesbian Rights, said that several institutions, such as the nation’s education and legal systems, were failing the country’s LGBT teens.
This month, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY) have partnered to launch the “Got Rights Project,” to inform Massachusetts youth about their legal rights as students. Following the passage of the state’s 2010 anti-bullying law, representatives of GLAD and BAGLY united to create and distribute materials for students, including brochures and a video package, providing youth with access to legal assistance and information. According to BAGLY Director of Programs Jessica Flaherty, the “Got Rights Projects” provides several opportunities for LGBT students to gain knowledge of their legal rights as students, as well as speak to legal service representatives of GLAD. “Systemic homo/bi/transphobia blocks access to much needed accurate legal information and support,” she is quoted in a recent article. “LGBTQ youth disproportionately experience discrimination, harassment and violence in and out of school settings.”
The “Got Rights Project” workshops will feature representatives from BAGLY as well as a lawyer from GLAD.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recently released executive budget could cut $7 million in funding to the city’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Services, effectively eliminating 160 beds from youth shelters across the city. According to a representative from the Ali Forney Center – the city’s largest LGBT youth shelter – the need for shelter beds has increased dramatically in recent years, with the waiting list for the Center growing by 40 percent last year. The Ali Forney Center claims that there are only 250 shelter beds available in New York – despite an estimated homeless youth population of almost 4,000. Carl Siciliano, the Center’s executive director, told The Advocate he considered Bloomberg’s budget cuts to be “cruel, reckless and contemptible.”
“These cuts create an even bigger crisis for the LGBT teens who are thrown out of their homes and forced to endure homelessness on the streets of our city,” he said. “The Ali Forney Center and all those who work with and care about LGBT homeless youth will not be silent in the face of this decision, which offends us as a community and needlessly puts our young people in harm’s way.”
A New York City Independent Budget Office report from March predicted (on page 35) homeless shelter budget cuts, with the investigation identifying an increase in average shelter stay durations as well as the cessation of subsidy programs, such as Advantage, as the primary factors for budget shortfalls.
It gets better. That’s the message many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth have heard since last fall when multiple cases received high-profile media attention concerning teens being bullied and/or committing suicide for being gay, or perceived to be gay. But is it safer for LGBT students entering school this year? Some LGBT leaders are doubtful, despite the positive changes that are occurring, according to an article by the Keen News Service. Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, acknowledges that more schools are aware of what to do and more resources exist, but she told a reporter for the news service that there is still “a lot of work to be done.”