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. FreeState is proud to be the coordinator of the Youth Equality Alliance (YEA), a statewide coalition working to identify ways to improve practices and protocols affecting at-risk LGBTQ youth.
Purpose: 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.
Download YEA’s first report, Living in the Margins, by clicking on the photo to the right. This report profiles the experiences of LGBTQ Youth in Maryland, and makes policy recommendations to build safe spaces for all our young people.
We are proud to release the Living in the Margins Update which profiles our progress as a coalition in the past year. YEA has also created factsheets about the experiences of LGBTQ Youth in Maryland that speak to the importance of our advocacy work. For more information, or to find out how you can take part in this critical work, contact YEA coordinator, Saida Agostini, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YEA has launched a Youth Advisory Board (YAB) to inform our work and create meaningful change in Baltimore schools for LGBTQ youth.
We are the LGBTQ Youth Advisory Board. We take pride in who we are and our community. We are a force that stands against inequality and discrimination. What makes us beautiful as a community is that we are strong, independent, and we are willing to give back to queer bodies who have experienced suffering due to social injustice. Our objective is to create safe spaces, where youth can have moments of self-exploration and expression. We plan to make schools safe by installing programs such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Gay Straight Alliance in schools.
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 temporary 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.
YEA Policy Recommendations:
• 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