Transgender Youth Are Being Failed By Nearly All 50 States

05/07/2017 05:45 pm ET Updated May 08, 2017
Jamie Davis Smith

Last week a new Executive Order laid the groundwork for permitting discrimination against transgender and other individuals who are often targeted in discriminatory acts. Transgender youth, who already lacked adequate legal protections, will continue to experience inadequate protections and often inadequate care.

A new report published in April by Lambda Legal, Children’s Rights and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, Safe Havens: Closing the Gap Between Recommend Practice and Reality for Transgender and Gender-Expansive Youth in Out-of-Home Care, provided a comprehensive analysis of the troubling lack of explicit laws and policies in most states to protect transgender, gender expansive and gender non-conforming (TGNC) youth in the child welfare, juvenile justice, and runaway and homeless youth systems (“out-of-home care systems”).

This is significant because lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) youth—and TGNC youth in particular—are dramatically overrepresented in out-of-home care systems compared to the general population. Moreover, they often face harsh treatment and discrimination in programs that were designed to help them. These issues are particularly troublesome for TGNC youth, because of the way out-of-home care systems define and segregate youth on the basis of sex (or gender).

Currey Cook, Lambda Legal’s Director of the Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project says:

It’s critical for policymakers, administrators and service providers as they do essential reform work to these systems to listen to the voices of TGNC youth to ensure their safety and well-being. TGNC youth face unique challenges when they come into contact with out-of-home care systems because most placements and facilities are sex-specific and too often don’t affirm their identities.

Key findings from the report’s fifty-state analysis of state law, policy, and licensing regulations include:

•             Only 27 states and Washington, D.C. explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination protections specific to the child welfare system; only 21 states and D.C. do so in their juvenile justice systems; and only 12 states and D.C. do so in their facilities serving runaway and homeless youth.

•             Only three states in the nation define sex (or gender) to include gender identity, and only one of those does so in a regulation specific to out-of-home care even though all states use these terms in law governing housing, clothing and body searches.

•             Only four states have statutory or regulatory guidance regarding placement of transgender youth in accordance with their gender identities in out-of-home care.

•             Twenty-four states provide no explicit statute or regulation that would allow TGNC youth to dress and express themselves in accordance with who they are in their child welfare systems; forty states provide no such allowance in their juvenile justice systems; and thirty-four states provide no such allowance in their homeless and runaway youth facilities.

“Too many young people are not sleeping safely at night, despite the fact that our Constitution enshrines the right to be protected and treated equally in state care,” said Christina Remlin,” Children’s Rights Lead Attorney and co-author of the report. “It is our hope that states, agencies and providers will embrace the wise counsel of TGNC youth themselves and heed the call to prioritize their safety and well-being.”

The report recommends steps that can be taken to eliminate barriers to affirming treatment for TGNC youth, including:

•             States must adopt comprehensive and explicit statutory, regulatory, and policy protections for TGNC youth, such as defining sex (or gender) as inclusive of gender identity; requiring placement in accordance with gender identity; eliminating sex (or gender) from regulations regarding clothing, grooming, and expression; among others.

•             Agencies and providers must require affirming placement and classification procedures; promote healthy gender identity development and expression; mandate affirming gender-responsive programming and activities while in care; and provide clear and ongoing training and competency requirements for staff.

•             Advocates and administrators must utilize existing protections to ensure that children and youth are treated fairly, while proactively working to develop law and policies so protection is explicit and complete.

•             TGNC youth must be engaged to ensure that their voices are part of policy development and so their experiences can serve as examples to guide life-changing system improvements.

Read the full findings from the Safe Havens report here and learn more about Lambda Legal’s Youth in Out-of-Home Care project here.

Contributor has no interest in anyone or anything mentioned.

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