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The Correctional Association of Ny Publication Lgbt Myths and Reality Jan 2006

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LGBT Youth in Detention: Myth and Reality

Myth #1:

“Adolescents are too young to know that they are lesbian, gay,
bisexual or transgender.”

Reality:

A research study of lesbian, gay, bisexual youth found that the
average age of awareness about sexual orientation was 10.1 The
average age that youth first disclosed their sexual orientation was
14.2

Myth #2

“LGBT youth are manipulative.”

Reality:

Individuals who are targeted for abuse and harassment have to find
ways to protect themselves. Unfortunately, administrators and
detention workers sometimes label these survival strategies as
“manipulative behavior.” If an LGBT youth is seeking special
treatment or privileges (e.g. taking individual showers, not
participating in gym), facility staff should seek to find out the
underlying reasons for these requests.

Myth #3

“Gay and lesbian youth should be discouraged from being too
open about their sexual orientation (“acting too gay”) in order
to protect them from being harassed and to prevent them from
influencing other youth.”

Reality:

Chastising LGBT youth for being open about their sexual
orientation or gender identity further damages their self esteem and
makes them feel responsible for anti-gay abuse. Unfortunately,
LGBT youth are often placed in more restrictive settings either in an
effort to protect them from abuse or based on the incorrect
assumption that they are more likely than a heterosexual youth to
act out sexually. This practice means that LGBT youth are being
treated more harshly within the system simply because of their
sexual and/or gender orientation.

1

Daugnelli, A., Grossman, A., and Starks, M., “Parents’ Awareness of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual
Youth’s Sexual Orientation”, Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2005, p.478.
2
Ibid.

January 2006

Myth #4:

“Kids pick on each other for a range of things (being too fat,
living in another neighborhood, having a big nose) so being
picked on for being gay is no different.”

Reality:

It is true that no form of bullying should be tolerated. However, it is
also important to specifically address homophobia within the facility.
LGBT youth have often been rejected by their families and
harassed at school. It is important to stem this cycle of harassment
and mistreatment.

Myth #5:

“LGBT youth in our detention centers never complain about
mistreatment. This must mean that they are being treated
fine.”

Reality:

Don’t misinterpret “no news” as “good news.” The reality is that
teenagers are less likely to make complaints than adults –
especially if they don’t feel that adult staff members are
sympathetic to their concerns. Even if you don’t hear complaints
from LGBT youth, it is important to be proactive by having a
comprehensive anti-discrimination policy and by offering antihomophobia training for staff and residents.

Myth #6:

“LGBT youth must be separated from the general population
to ensure their safety.”

Reality:

Facility staff should not rely on administrative segregation or
isolation to protect the safety of LGBT youth. These policies only
serve to punish LGBT youth. Rather, the safety of residents is best
assured by adequate staffing and meaningful programming.3

Myth #7:

“The only way to provide a safe environment for LGBT youth
is to create separate group homes or housing areas
exclusively for LGBT youth.”

Reality:

Specialized group homes are an important resource for LGBT
youth.4 These group homes often provide an affirming and safe
environment. However, it should not be assumed that all LGBT
youth wish to be placed in a separate facility. In fact, some youth
may not wish to be placed in these facilities because they do not
wish to disclose their sexual orientation. In addition, the existence
of these facilities should not absolve the detention system from its
larger responsibility to create safe, inclusive environments in all
their facilities.

3

Wilber, S., Reyes, C. and Marksamer, J. “Model Standards Project: Creating Inclusive Systems
for LGBT Youth in Out-of-Home Care” Child Welfare League of America, 2005, p. 8.
4
Ibid., p. 7.

January 2006

Myth #8:

“As a matter of policy, facility staff members do not call youth
by nicknames or street names, so we can’t call transgender
youth by the name they preferred to be called.”

Reality:

Allowing transgender youth to use names in accordance with their
gender identity is essential to helping young people develop a
sense of self worth. It may also help prevent violence and
harassment by encouraging other youth to treat transgender youth
with respect.5

Myth #9:

“We cannot allow transgender youth to wear clothing
according to their gender identity because this may arouse the
other youth.”

Reality:

Like names and pronouns, clothing is an important signifier of
gender. If the facility allows youths to wear their own clothing,
transgender youth should be allow to dress according to their
gender identity.

Myth #10:

“We do not discuss homosexuality in the facility because we
do not want to encourage residents to have sexual relations
within the facility.”
Curiosity about one’s sexuality is an aspect of healthy adolescent
development. Staff should be appropriately trained to discuss
questions about sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity
with all youth.

5

Ibid., p.6.

January 2006

 

 

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