Momentum: Protecting the Most Vulnerable

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Know the laws in your state that protect LBGT people and people living with HIV.
December 28, 2013
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In the blog series Momentum: 2013, A Year of Equality we ask Lambda Legal’s experts to discuss the impact of the previous year and the continuing work necessary to keep equality moving forward.

2013 brought amazing advances for LGBT rights across the country. While victories in marriage equality dominated the headlines this year, some exciting legislative and policy changes happened to protect the rights of LGBTQ youth and, in particular, youth in homeless, juvenile justice and foster care systems.

At the federal level, U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore, both Wisconsin Democrats, introduced The Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act, which would bar homeless shelters that receive federal funds from discriminating against LGBT youth and require shelter staff to gain competency in serving their unique needs.The bill will be considered in 2014 as part of the reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act reauthorization process.

At the state level, California passed the landmark School Success and Opportunity Act requiring public schools to respect students’ gender identity and insuring that students can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs and facilities that match their gender identity. In New Jersey, a bill banning gay conversion therapy was signed and California’s law banning gay conversion, which was co-sponsored by Lambda Legal, was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission issued an LGBTQI policy protecting all youth in juvenile facilities from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and requiring LGBTQ competency training for all staff, which Lambda Legal will help facilitate. At the local level, Santa Clara County, California Juvenile Probation passed an LGBTQ policy and New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services began mandatory LGBTQ policy and competency training for their staff and the staff and foster parents of the over 30 foster care agencies in the city.

These changes are incredibly significant and pave the way for other states and municipalities to provide basic protections for LGBTQ youth who are over-represented in all systems of out-of-home care. Most states, however, lack specific protections for these youth – the majority of whom are youth of color and enter care due to family rejection. Even as we celebrate many victories for LGBT rights, many young people and adults connected with state run systems experience discrimination on a daily basis. Lambda Legal and pro bono local counsel successfully advocated for two children in foster care to be united with their twin siblings in their lesbian foster parents’ home after the children’s advocate tried to stop their placement because there “wasn’t a father in the home.” In addition to discrimination against LGB foster parents, youth are frequently left homeless because child welfare workers blame them for coming out and refuse to provide services to promote family acceptance, deny youth LGB or affirming placements because it will make them “gay,” or fail to provide recommended health care for gender dysphoria.

We must take our incredible momentum and make it real for the most vulnerable members of our community: LGBTQ youth and, in particular, LGBTQ youth in foster care, juvenile justice and homeless settings. Institutional racism, homophobia, transphobia and the confidentiality of the very systems that are supposed to protect our youth have left many of them victimized and invisible. At Lambda Legal, we are committed to continuing our fight for the rights of LGBTQ youth and to taking the good will and relationships from our marriage work and translating them into affirmation and legal protection for youth in their schools, communities and government systems of care.

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