The Unfair Criminalization of Gay and Transgender Youth

Aisha recently co-authored a piece for the Center for American Progress focused around LGBT youth experiences in the juvenile justice system:

Gay, transgender, and gender nonconforming youth are significantly over-represented in the juvenile justice system—approximately 300,000 gay and transgender youth are arrested and/or detained each year, of which more than 60 percent are black or Latino. Though gay and transgender youth represent just 5 percent to 7 percent of the nation’s overall youth population, they compose 13 percent to 15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system.

These high rates of involvement in the juvenile justice system are a result of gay and transgender youth abandonment by their families and communities, and victimization in their schools—sad realities that place this group of young people at a heightened risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline.

Despite the disproportionately high rates of gay and transgender youth entering the juvenile justice system, our nation’s schools, law enforcement officers, district attorneys, judges, and juvenile defenders are not equipped to manage the unique experiences and challenges that these young people face. As a consequence, the system often does more harm by unfairly criminalizing these youth—imposing harsh school sanctions, labeling them as sex offenders, or detaining them for minor offenses—in addition to subjecting them to discriminatory and harmful treatment that deprives them of their basic civil rights.

Angela Irvine of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in conjunction with theEquity Project, which works to ensure gay and transgender youth in the juvenile justice system are treated with fairness and respect, have both generated groundbreaking research on the experiences of these youth in the system over the past few years. This issue brief offers a high-level summary of some of their findings, as well as others, to explain the disproportionate pipelining of gay and transgender youth into the juvenile justice system, the bias and discrimination they face once within the system, and the steps that the federal government and state and local juvenile courts can take to ensure that gay and transgender youth are treated with dignity and respect.

Read the full text, co-authored by Jerome Hunt and Aisha, at the CAP website.