Why Coming Out Day Can Be Hard for Incarcerated Youth

Did you know that 58% of girls in America’s juvenile justice facilities identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning?  That’s according to analysis of data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. And the majority of LGBTQ youth—a shocking 85%—in the juvenile justice system are youth of color, according to a national survey conducted by Ceres Policy Research.  

For these LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system, coming out or being out can be fraught. Coming Out Day is a national day of awareness and celebration of LGBTQ people celebrated every October. This year marks the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day.  

That’s because LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system face high rates of discrimination, harassment, and violence, as detailed in a report from the Movement Advancement Project, the Center for American Progress, and Youth First. Gay and bisexual boys, for example, were nearly 11x more likely than straight boys to report sexual violence. Many LGBTQ youth are also subjected by biased staff members to harmful conversion therapy and sex-offender counseling simply because the youth is LGBTQ, while many are also denied critical medical care. Finally, lack of supportive services and limits on family visitation mean LGBTQ youth who are incarcerated are often denied equal opportunities to successfully reenter their communities upon release. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s clear that much reform is needed to reduce the number of youth incarcerated, to improve the opportunities and safety of youth in the system, and to support youth as they reach adulthood. For example, it is still the case that youth who are 17 years old in four states (Georgia, Michigan, Texas, and Wisconsin) are automatically charged as adults. In five other states (Louisiana, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina) changes to keep children under 18 out of the adult system have not yet gone into full effect. The Michigan legislature has begun to take up reform legislation this fall.   

Especially today, as the LGBT movement and the nation highlight the need for support, acceptance, and welcoming spaces for LGBTQ youth, it is crucial that we look for ways to support LGBTQ youth in our country’s juvenile justice halls, our jails, and our adult prisons.  

Share these graphics and your own national coming out (#NCOD) for youth justice (#YJAM and) increase the visibility and awareness of the needs of LGBTQ youth in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.