Prejudice Can Lead to Negative Outcomes
Youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ+) face the same struggles as all adolescents, many with the added stress of feeling unsafe in social environments, being outcasts in school and facing rejection from their families. The Human Rights Campaign reports that LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely than their peers to be physically assaulted, 92% have heard negative messages about being LGBTQ+ and 26% report non-accepting families.
Extensive research has established that LGBTQ+ children experience a higher rate of abuse and neglect than those who identify as heterosexual, which leads to high rates of LGBTQ+ children being served by the child welfare system. A 2019 University of Texas at Austin study found that over 30% of foster care youth identify as LGBTQ+.
LGBTQ+ youth can also struggle with peers in school and are more likely than their peers to be bullied. Studies show a significant link between bullying and increased dropout rates.
Failure to be accepted at home, potentially violent responses to sexual orientation and lack of desire to stay in a hostile school environment can all lead to homelessness. While youth who identify as LGBTQ+ make up about 7% of the total population it is estimated that up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+.
Transgender youth face similar issues to their LGBQ peers with additional stressors and obstacles due to society’s perception of gender. This often translates to well-intentioned policy changes causing harmful environments that often reject rather than support transgender youth because their unique needs are not part of the original discussion. This leads to transgender youth experiencing greater adversity than their peers. Transgender youth are more at risk for mental illness and homelessness and are over represented in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Group homes, juvenile detention facilities, and homeless shelters are often sex specific and do not take gender identity into consideration when placing youth, putting transgender and gender non-conforming youth at risk of harrassment, violence, and sexual assault by both peers and staff.
Conversion Therapy is Ineffective and Dangerous
The state of Florida doesn’t have a law banning conversion therapy on minors, although 20 cities in Florida, 14 states, and the District of Columbia have all banned this practice. A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states, “conversion therapy—efforts to change an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression—is a practice that is not supported by credible evidence and has been disavowed by behavioral health experts and associations.” According to the American College of Physicians, conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, may actually cause emotional or physical harm to LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly adolescents or young persons. The American Psychological Association found reparative therapy caused harmful effects including depression, suicidality and anxiety. Numerous organizations, representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured.”
While several Florida cities and counties have already taken up the initiative to ban conversion therapy, more leadership is needed from the state. Local bans only protect children inside city or county lines. Some of these bans are no longer enforceable as a few court rulings have overturned them. Leadership at the state level is necessary to ensure that children across the state are kept safe from the harms of this dangerous practice. Legislation that would have prohibited licensed health practitioners and counselors across the state from practicing conversion therapy on minors has been filed but never scheduled for a consecutive 5 years.
Vulnerable to Commercial Sexual Exploitation
The discrimination that this group often receives – from family, peers, neighbors, institutions, employers and others – makes them exceptionally vulnerable to entry into the commercial sex market. The majority of children who are victims of sex trafficking come from households in which they feel unsafe or have experienced some kind of trauma. While it is perceived that the majority of sex trafficking victims are female, an increasing number are boys who identify as LGBTQ+.
Experiences of mistreatment and discrimination can have permanent, harmful effects on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ youth. Policymakers must work to create multi-faceted initiatives that understand and give compassionate support to this vulnerable population.
LGBTQ+ youth of color are more likely to feel unsafe at school and it impacts their mental health
25.9% of Black and 16.4% of Latinx LGB youth in Florida are not going to school because they feel unsafe at school or on their way to school compared to 10.7% of White students. Florida youth of color who identify as lesbian or gay self-report that they are up to three times as likely to be threatened or assaulted with a weapon on school property than their White peers. Despite having similar rates of mental health issues to their white counterparts, Black LGBTQ+ youth are significantly less likely to receive professional care. Florida lesbian and gay children of color are more likely to attempt to take their life; 33.3% of Black LG youth and 27.8% of Latinx LG and 15.9% of White LG youth report having attempted suicide.
Discriminatory laws place LGBTQ+ youth at risk
The passage of the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act”, which requires that certain athletic teams/sports sponsored by educational institutions be designated on basis of biological sex, puts transgender youth at an even higher risk of experiencing feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. This law requires use of gender prescribed at birth rather than following Florida statutes that allow for change in gender assignment in certain circumstances.
Transgender youth already experience higher suicide rates than their cisgender peers. In a 2019 survey by The Trevor Project, 54% of transgender and non-binary youth reported seriously considering suicide in the last year, and 29% made a suicide attempt.
- Ban harmful conversion therapy from being practiced on minors in Florida: Conversion therapy does not recognize the sanctity of LGBTQ+ youth and is a dangerous and unwarranted discriminatory practice. Florida should pass a statewide ban, expanding the actions of several cities and counties who have taken up the initiative.
- Ensure LGBTQ+ youth in the child welfare system are placed in homes that understand and support the unique stress they experience: All children served by the child welfare system should be placed in safe and compassionate facilities that provide them appropriate physical and mental care.
- Place children in settings appropriate to the gender they identify with, rather than the gender of their birth: Systems serving youth populations must take a child’s transgender identity, rather than the gender assigned to them at birth, into consideration during a pre-placement assessment.
- Remove language in Florida law that is discriminatory to transgender youth: Transgender youth face unique obstacles which can lead to mental health issues. Legislating discrimination on children who are transgender only places them at higher risk.
- Create bully-free schools without reinforcing the school-to-prison pipeline: The education system must have a stronger support system for this population, including safer schools and support from the community.
- Programs serving young victims of sex trafficking must expand their reach to male and LGBTQ+ victims: Sex trafficking is often viewed as a crime against females. While females are the predominant population, services must be adapted to meet the unique needs of male and LGBTQ+ victims.
- Enact state-specific statutes to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2019. This federal legislation mandates that school policy prohibit bullying or harassment conduct based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.
American Children’s Campaign Priority Bill Highlights
- Alarming Number of LGBT Minors Will Undergo Conversion Therapy in States Without Legal Protections – Human Rights Campaign. Approximately 20,000 LGBTQ+ minors will be forced to undergo conversion therapy by a licensed healthcare professional in states without laws protecting them from the practice.
- At The Intersections —A Collaborative Resource on LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness. Understanding and teaching the multiple intersecting factors that cause LGBTQ youth to experience homelessness.
- LGBTQ+ Youth—The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Overview of LGBTQ+ youth and their experiences in adolescence.
- LGBTQ+ Homelessness—National Coalition for the Homeless. According to the Williams Institute, 40% of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBTQ+.
- Youth Involvement in the Sex Trade—Center for Court Innovation. Examines the lives and needs of youth who are involved in exchanging sex for money, food, housing, drugs or other goods. The study identifies LGBTQ+ youth as a portion of the population that has been historically overlooked.
Disclaimer: These links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They do not constitute an endorsement or approval by American Children’s Campaign or its affiliate organizations and partners.