About This Issue
From the time of LGBTQ+ youth’s first contact with the juvenile court system, they may be marginalized based on conscious or unconscious perceptions and biases made about their identity. This marginalization is compounded for LGBTQ+ youth who are Black, Latino/a, and Native/Indigenous who may experience discrimination at the intersection of these aspects of their identity. Defense advocacy—as well as policy change at the systems level—must be considered through an intersectional lens to honor the multiple marginalized identities of some youth involved in juvenile court.
Existing data about LGBTQ+ youth show that they are disproportionately involved in the juvenile court system because of explicit and implicit biases. The challenges and biases they face can include harsher detention decisions; serious physical, sexual, and emotional abuse within facilities; inappropriate use of isolation; and culturally incompetent disposition services. Defenders must advocate to shield LGBTQ+ clients from these harms and affirm their strengths, identities, and experiences at every stage of the court process.
All young people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. They also deserve spaces that are inclusive, welcoming, and affirming of their whole selves. Youth defenders can be fierce advocates for LGBTQ+ young people in the system and fight to ensure that their rights are upheld.
Youth defenders must seek out consistent training and education to provide sensitive advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ+ clients and be able to comfortably discuss their clients’ experiences while protecting confidences and privacy. They should also be committed to understanding and honoring the strengths and needs of LGBTQ+ youth and be aware of the challenges and injustice they face in the system. The Gault Center offers resources, training, and other materials for defenders and youth justice stakeholders to promote a fair and equitable court system that uplifts LGBTQ+ youth and helps them achieve healthy and positive outcomes.
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