The Youth Equality Alliance (YEA) released a report Tuesday on the challenges that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth face in Maryland education, foster care and juvenile justice systems.
In recent years, Maryland’s LGBTQ community has secured several new rights, including the right to marry and the right to be free from gender identity discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Yet, much work remains to be done in order to guarantee that all LGBTQ Marylanders are protected, safe, and equal – especially youth. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, an estimated 621,608 youth, ages 10 to 17, live in Maryland, as do 322,140 young adults, ages 18 to 21. Based on national studies, 5-10 percent of youth identify as LGBTQ. For Maryland, that means that between 47,000 and 95,000 youth identify as LGBTQ, not including the thousands who may be unsure about their sexual orientation or gender identity. This population faces unique challenges to their ability to lead healthy and productive lives.
Many of Maryland’s LGBTQ youth attend schools in which the LGBTQ community is invisible. Only 21 percent reported being taught about positive representations of LGBTQ people, history, and events. Slightly more than half were able to access information about LGBTQ communities and issues via school internet.
In Maryland’s schools, approximately 80 percent of LGBTQ students reported experiencing verbal harassment from peers because of their sexual orientation. Nearly 60 percent of students surveyed have endured name calling and threats in response to their gender expression. Survey responses indicated that 30 percent of students had faced minor physical harassment such as being pushed or shoved, while 10 percent received more serious injuries, such as having been punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon.
LGBTQ youth entering foster care are “twice as likely to have experienced family conflict, child abuse, and homelessness as other youth” – putting these youth at greater risk for severe emotional and physical harm. LGBTQ youth who have been rejected by their families are eight times more likely to have attempted suicide, six times more likely to exhibit high levels of depression, three times more likely to engage in illicit drug use, and three times more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than peers with supportive families. In a national study, 58 percent of LGBTQ homeless youth reported being sexually victimized.
Too often, LGBTQ youth escape abusive homes or the streets, only to encounter more abuse, harassment, or misunderstanding from foster families, caseworkers, group home or facility staff, and peers. At this time, there have been no surveys conducted in Maryland on the number of LGBTQ youth in state care or of their experiences in foster care.
A press conference will be held Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral Street in Baltimore. YEA coalition members and LGBTQ youth are scheduled to speak about the experiences of bullying, harassment, and discrimination as well as the negative outcomes these youth often face.
“Although the Maryland LGBTQ community has recently secured several new rights, including marriage equality and the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, there is much work to be done to protect the rights of LGBTQ youth,” said Aaron Merki, Executive Director of FreeState Legal project, one of the founding members of YEA.
There is a growing recognition across the nation that LGBTQ youth are at a heightened risk of entering the “school-to-jail pipeline”. Public institutions and systems – primarily the education, foster care, and juvenile justice systems – are among the toughest environments for LGBTQ youth. YEA’s first report, Living in the Margins briefly outlines the current challenges facing LGBTQ youth as they navigate these three systems, and proposes specific and realistic recommendations for addressing these challenges.
Jabari Lyles with the Baltimore Area chapter of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is hopeful that the research and statistics cited in the report will stir support for implementing the recommendations.
“People have to wonder what is going wrong when they hear that as many as one-third of LGBTQ youth never finish high school and up to 40 percent of our homeless youth self-identify as LGBTQ,” said Lyles, also a member of YEA.
Formed in May 2013, YEA is a statewide coalition of various service providers, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and individual advocates that seeks to identify policy and regulatory solutions to problems faced by LGBTQ youth in Maryland. Members include groups such as ACLU of Maryland, The Public Justice Center, Equality Maryland, PFLAG, Planned Parenthood of Maryland, Homeless Persons Representation Project, and the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
YEA urges that the Office of the Governor, state government agency directors, legislators, and political candidates read this report and decide what initiatives they will champion to improve the outcomes of these youth. Click here to access the report.