LGBTQ Youth Face Unique Barriers to Accessing Youth Mentoring Programs
Press Release For Immediate Distribution
January 31, 2014
Need for legal protections and policies that promote access
LOS ANGELES — According to a new Williams Institute study, the over three million LGBTQ youth in the United States could benefit from access to youth mentoring programs –in particular over 1.6 million at-risk LGBTQ youth. The new report makes recommendations that youth mentoring programs and local, state, and federal governments can follow to ensure that access. Titled, “Ensuring LGBTQ Youth’s Access to Youth Mentoring Programs,” the study is co-authored by Williams Institute Executive Director, Brad Sears; Senior Counsel, Christy Mallory; Counsel, Alex Susman; and Jim Kepner Law and Policy Fellow, Amira Hasenbush.
“Programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs of America have the potential to provide life-changing experiences for LGBTQ youth,” said co-author Sears. “Trainings for staff and mentors and outreach to LGBT youth are just a couple of effective strategies organizations can use to help reduce the currently high LGBTQ youth involvement with the juvenile justice system.”
Research shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, which may be due, in part, to selective enforcement of criminal laws against them. They also experience higher rates of family rejection, school harassment and bullying, homelessness, and a host of other factors related to their identity that put them at increased risk of involvement with the system. Youth mentoring organizations are designed to address the challenges at-risk youth face in their daily lives, but there is evidence showing that some organizations are unwelcoming of LGBTQ youth, and discriminate against them when they try to seek services.
“We estimate that less than one in five (just over 300,000) of at-risk LGBTQ youths have had a formal mentor,” said co-author Mallory. “That means that more than 1.3 million at-risk LGBTQ youth have never had a formal mentor despite evidence that high-quality, enduring mentorships can lead to a host of positive outcomes for the young people involved.”
The study recommends the following policies and practices to break down the barriers LGBTQ youth face:
• Adopting internal policies and practices: Youth mentoring programs can adopt a number of policies and practices to ensure that their programs are accessible and welcoming to LGBTQ youth, as well as LGBTQ mentors. Such policies and practices include:
— Sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, and confidentiality policies;
— Inclusion of LGBTQ identity-affirming language on websites and other materials;
— Staff trainings focused on “best practices” for mentoring LGBTQ youth;
— Outreach practices targeting LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ-affirming mentors.
• Establishing LGBTQ-focused youth mentoring programs. Government and foundations can encourage development of private programs for mentoring LGBTQ youth.
• Implementing non-discrimination requirements in youth mentoring program grants: To further the objectives of youth mentoring programs, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the Department of Justice has the authority to issue guidance prohibiting grantees from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to designate LGBTQ youth as an underserved population, and to specifically fund programs for LGBTQ youth.
• Enforcing existing legal protections: Several existing laws protect LGBTQ people to some extent, including Title VII, Title IX, constitutional provisions, and state non-discrimination laws.
• Adopting new legal protections: Laws explicitly prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination can be passed at the federal, state, and local levels.