FreeState works to improve the lives of all LGBTQ Marylanders through public policy initiatives.

Although the Maryland lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community has recently 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, there is much work to be done to protect the rights of LGBTQ youth.  Currently, FreeState serves as the ad hoc coordinator of the Youth Equality Alliance (YEA), a statewide coalition working to identify ways to improve practices and protocols affecting at-risk LGBTQ youth.


06.26.14 yea logoPurpose: Formed in May 2013, the Youth Equality Alliance (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 education, foster care, and juvenile justice systems. During its first year, YEA created a report, Living in the Margins, which briefly outlines the current challenges facing LGBTQ youth as they navigate these three systems, and proposes specific and realistic recommendations for addressing these challenges. Activities for YEA’s second year include releasing its first report, engaging in opportunities to raise awareness of the unmet needs of these LGBTQ, and beginning the implementation of the recommendations. We anticipate that annual reports will be released each summer, detailing YEA’s work in coordinating research, professional training, and policy development initiatives, as well as efforts to assist state actors in adopting these recommendations.

YEA report coverYEA’s first report, Living in the Margins, was released August 12, 2014! Click on the photo to the right to download the report.

To mark the report’s release, a press conference was held at the Enoch Pratt Free Library located at 400 Cathedral Street, Baltimore.

A reception and discussion about the YEA report was also held at the Windup Space, located at 12 W. North Avenue, Baltimore.

LGBTQ youth and their allies are encouraged to attend this Speak Up, Speak Out event to hear about the experiences of LGBTQ youth in schools, foster care, and juvenile services, and to learn more about the work of YEA.   Come listen or share your story: your choice.  Please contact yea@freestatelegal.org for information and support in holding one in your community.



YEA Report Events August 12 flier

Click here to download a copy of the flier for August 12th events

For information on organizing discussion events in your area of the state, click below

YEA Speak Up Speak Out Campaign

For information about why youth should join YEA as allies or advocates, click below

YEA information for youth

For information on how to join YEA (we are looking for allies and advocates across the state), click below

YEA membership information

For more information, you can always  email yea@freestatelegal.org.

Be sure to follow @FreeStateLGBT for the most up-to-date information on our policy efforts.


More about the Youth Equality Alliance:

Rationale: Throughout the United States, there is a growing recognition among youth advocates that LGBTQ youth are at a heightened risk of entering the “school-to-jail pipeline”. Our public institutions and systems – primarily the education, foster care, and juvenile justice systems – are also among the most challenging environments for LGBTQ youth.

School environments can be hostile to LGBTQ students. When LGBTQ youth are bullied at school, school personnel often fail to address their needs. These youth and their bullies are routinely suspended, expelled, and criminalized, pushing them into the juvenile justice systems. Those youth who are not “out” to their parents or guardians are unable to turn to them for fear of rejection. When their families become aware of the reasons behind the bullying and their homes turn unaccepting or violent, these youth may be forced to leave. Too many find themselves on the street, vulnerable to harassment by law enforcement for curfew violations or truancy, as well as exploitation while engaged in survival crimes such as drug dealing and prostitution.

Some of these youth may enter foster care; however, not all placements are open to receiving LGBTQ youth, and the foster system can also be hostile to LGBTQ youth due to institutional bias, lack of training, and the prejudice of foster care parents. As a result, many of these youth are removed from, or run away from, these te14-FSL-002_050614_YeaReport_000099 copymporary placements. Approximately one in four LGBTQ youth are kicked out or run away from their living situations and as many as 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

High rates of homelessness result in an increased risk of involvement with the juvenile justice system. In court, judges, advocates, and case workers often misunderstand the reasons why LGBTQ youth are truant, homeless, or unemployed. In juvenile facilities, these youth experience challenges safeguarding their health and safety, and difficulty trusting adults who might seek to change or punish them for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Once released from custody, many of these youth face further barriers to finishing school, becoming employed, or locating stable housing, as well as experience negative long-term outcomes with regard to mental and physical health, resulting in a cycle of arrest and incarceration.

Current Activities: During YEA’s first year, three workgroups were formed to examine available data about LGBTQ youth, identify their needs in achieving better outcomes, and determine ways that the three systems could effectively address the needs of these youth– namely, the Maryland State Department of Education, the Department of Human Resources, and the Department of Juvenile Services. During YEA’s second year, each workgroup is tasked with developing strategies for implementation of these recommendations, many of which include:

• Authentic needs assessments of LGBTQ youth
• Mandated training for professionals in direct service as well as administration to increase awareness and knowledge of the needs of LGBTQ youth
• Clear policies for prevention and intervention of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and abuse of LGBTQ youth by their peers, as well as by staff
• Effective and sustainable procedures for monitoring the implementation of these policies on a statewide level
• Adequate staffing for liaisons to promote the health and safety of LGBTQ youth
• Creating and posting clear information about how LGBTQ youth may engage in confidential grievance procedures
• Expansion of comprehensive resources for LGBTQ youth to access while in the system
• Initiatives to promote a more positive culture for LGBTQ youth



Since we hired our first full-time staff member in 2011, FreeState has served hundreds of clients in legal matters ranging from name and gender change cases to taking on the State of Maryland for its failure to provide transition-related healthcare to transgender people, and from employment discrimination cases to bitter custody disputes over legal parentage for children of same-sex couples.

We have so much more work to do.

We have to turn away hundreds of low-income LGBTQ heartbreaking stories of discrimination every year just because we don’t have enough attorneys to provide legal help to all that need it. Help us hire a new attorney!



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