November | December 2014

Advocates Gather in Washington, DC, for OJJDP Listening Session on LGBTQ Youth Needs

Asking someone the preferred pronoun to use to describe that person instead of assuming that person is male or female is a small act that makes a big difference in building trust with the LGBTQ community, participants agreed at the OJJDP listening session "Creating and Sustaining Fair and Beneficial Environments of LGBTQ Youth," held on November 6–7, 2014, in Washington, DC.

Speaking at the convening about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning issues, Office of Justice Programs Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason said, "Many [LGBTQ youth] end up in the juvenile justice system for no justifiable reason." The Assistant Attorney General told the estimated 40 participants that Attorney General Eric Holder has referred to the situation as "one of the most defining civil rights issues of our time."

The Honorable Anthony Capizzi, Montgomery County Juvenile Court, Dayton, OH, (left) with OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee, spoke about the training of judges he is involved with which helps develop sensitivity to LGBTQ issues
The Honorable Anthony Capizzi, Montgomery County Juvenile Court, Dayton, OH, (left) with OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee, spoke about enhancing judicial leadership for LGBTQ youth.

In his remarks, OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee assured the estimated 40 participants—representatives from LGBTQ advocacy groups, including youth, judges, and the federal government—of the Office’s commitment to outreach and training to improve the relationship between law enforcement, correctional officers, judges, and others with the LGBTQ community. "I want what we do to touch the lives of our young people [so that] they know somebody cares about their issues," said Administrator Listenbee. "I want to discourage criminalization of adolescent behavior. We ought to be able to provide training and supervision to ensure our children are treated properly. Let’s stay on task until we get what we need done. Let’s work together."

The percentage of youth in detention facilities in recent years who identify as LGBTQ has risen sharply, according to a soon-to-be-released study by the National Council on Crime & Delinquency (NCCD). Dr. Angela Irvine, director of research at NCCD, shared that these youth are often mistreated, sometimes because officers do not know how to deal with their needs. Issues are compounded because of intersectionality, such as being LGBTQ and being African American, Latino, or another minority race or religion.

M. Currey Cook, Esq., director of the Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, Lambda Legal, New York, NY, joined his copresenters to discuss a variety of successful programs. Se-ah-dom Edmo, director of the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program at Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR, spoke about the ways Indian country is developing a better understanding of their LGBTQ family and showed a short film about a woman’s journey toward self-acceptance with help from an elder relative.

Attendees volunteered suggestions for OJJDP and the LGBTQ community to engage in to better support LGBTQ youth. These include—

  • Educating practitioners, including teachers, about the proper language to use in identifying a person’s gender preference.
  • Increasing oversight to make sure LGBTQ-friendly policies and guidelines are followed.
  • Connecting young people to positive older persons they can relate to and help them forge a mentoring relationship.
  • Collecting more data on LGBTQ individuals while being sensitive to the possibility that youth may not feel comfortable disclosing information in some situations, developing more evidence-based practices for youth in need, and promising practices in communities that can be replicated nationwide.
  • Creating affordable housing and economic assistance programs for youth in need.
  • Communicating to dispel fear and prejudice and help parents understand their LGBTQ children.

In her closing remarks, Assistant Attorney General Mason commended the youth participants for their bravery in advocating despite prejudice, violence, and threats.


The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Office of Justice Programs, offers a toolkit "Responding to Transgender Victims of Assault," which can be downloaded from the OVC Web site.

The "Tribal Equity Toolkit 2.0: Tribal Resolutions and Codes To Support Two Spirit & LGBT Justice In Indian Country," is available for download from the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program, Lewis & Clark College.