We are inspired by CARW’s work to undo institutional racism and white privilege through education and organizing in white communities and active support of anti-racist, people of color-led organizations.
The LGBT Commission’s decision to support our campaign is particularly important given the Commission’s role advising Seattle’s government on matters concerning LGBT populations in Seattle. The racism, classism, ablism and violence of the youth punishment and child welfare systems are extremely important issues for queer and trans people.
Here are some of the talking points we shared at the Commission meeting about LGBT youth in these systems:
LGBTQ youth enter both the foster care and juvenile justice systems at disproportionate rates. LGBTQ youth are often forced out of their homes due to abuse or severe family conflict. Up to 30% of LGBTQ youth report experiencing abuse at home after coming out and 26% report having to leave their family of origin due to conflict over their sexual orientation or gender identity. This conflict results in LGBTQ youth entering the child welfare system; once in the system, as many as 78% of LGBTQ youth are subject to further harassment or abuse in out of home care. As a result, many youth run away after being placed in foster care. Youth who are caught after running away can be jailed because they have violated the court order placing them in foster care.
LGBTQ youth experience homelessness at far greater rates than the general population. Between 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Due to homophobia and transphobia, as well as the criminalization of homelessness and poverty, LGBTQ youth are also disproportionately jailed. Approximately 13% of youth in juvenile detention are LGBTQ.
Many of the LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system were arrested for survival behaviors like prostitution and shoplifting. LGBTQ youth are two times more likely than straight youth to be jailed before adjudication for nonviolent offenses, including being jailed for skipping school. LGBTQ youth leave school in disproportionate numbers – over 70% report feeling unsafe, many skip school or drop out. Truancy is one major way youth land in the juvenile jail.
LGBTQ you are not just being detained at a disproportionate rate, they also experience disproportionate levels of violence while detained. LGBTQ youth are twelve times more likely than straight youth to report being sexually assaulted by a fellow inmate. LGBTQ youth are often subjected to segregation or isolation with the excuse that it keeps them safe. LGBTQ youth are disproportionately labeled as sex offenders and subjected to unnecessary treatment.
Investing in these systems/the Children and Family Justice Center does not address the underlying causes of incarceration and youth homelessness or the real needs of the LGBTQ people in Seattle. The new building has been advertised as benefiting youth by creating safer detention conditions and centralizing court-ordered services. These proposed solutions don’t address the larger question of why we are jailing youth to begin with despite knowing the incredible harms jailing them creates. It also doesn’t address why youth must come into the juvenile justice system in order to receive services.
In order to best serve LGBTQ youth in our community, we need services that are geared towards LGBTQ youth and that do not have, as a prerequisite, contact with the police or the child welfare authorities. Jailing should not be the safety net for youth – it is a source of enormous harm in their lives. By investing money into jails and courts rather than services such as housing, medical care, employment opportunities, and safe schools, we are deliberately subjecting LGBTQ youth to violence.