According to a new report co-authored by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, all 50 states in the U.S. are failing to protect transgender youth in places like foster care, juvenile detention facilities, and runaway and homeless shelters.
The first comprehensive report of its kind, researchers looked at the laws and policy protections in place for trans youth and found that while young people who identify as LGBTQ+ comprise just 5 to 7 percent of the overall youth population, they make up disproportionate amounts of the foster care system (25 percent) and the juvenile justice system (16 percent). Nearly half of young people who are experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+.
The researchers found LGBTQ+ youth often face discrimination in these places because of the way the programs define gender and segregate kids. "Most placements and facilities are sex-specific and too often don't affirm their identities," explained Lambda Legal's Currey Cook, who co-authored the report.
The findings reveal that New York and California are the only two states that have comprehensive protections in place to protect trans youth across all out-of-home care systems, while Alaska and North Carolina have none.
Despite the critical need for placement decisions that respect identity and keep trans youth safe, only four states have statutory or regulatory guidance regarding placement of transgender youth in out-of-home care in accordance with their gender identities. In addition, many states lack active protection against discrimination.
Only 27 states and the District of Columbia explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination protections specific to the child welfare system. There are 21 states and D.C. do so in their juvenile justice systems and just 12 states and the District of Columbia do so in their facilities serving runaway and homeless youth.
And while New Mexico is one of the 10 states that explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity in statutes or regulations specific to their child welfare systems, the state can't even seem to keep discrimination out of their school systems.
Just last week, a teacher in Albuquerque came under fire after handing out bathroom passes to students labeled "boys" and "girls" alongside the universal bathroom symbols for each gender, with the added line "don't get confused" printed above. The passes appear to imply that trans students may be "confused" about their gender identity or which bathroom they belong in—though, since the teacher hasn't responded to requests for comment, we can't know the teacher's motives for certain.
"Despite the solid constitutional basis for transgender youth to be protected from harm and treated fairly and despite increasingly explicit protections under federal law, comprehensive and explicit protections in state statutes, regulations and policy are rare," the researchers concluded. "States should adopt comprehensive and explicit statutory, regulatory, and policy protections for transgender youth."
The authors also recommend that agencies follow models of appropriate trans youth treatment, including promoting healthy gender identity development and expression and providing clear and ongoing training and competency requirements for staff.