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Standing up for gay teens

Standing up for gay teens

In his column at the Daily Beast, Gene Robinson highlights the need for compassionate religious people to seek justice, given systems that perpetuate the criminalization of LGBT individuals-especially youth-and those living with HIV:

If religious people and religious institutions are to respond to God’s call for compassion and justice, then we need to address societal systems that target and victimize the vulnerable in the first place.

Nowhere is this need more evident than in the systematic criminalization of LGBT people (especially LGBT youth) and people living with HIV infection. A startling and disturbing new report, “A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV,” outlines the frightening world facing this vulnerable population. This confluence of societal systems—policing and law enforcement, incarceration, immigration laws, and the increasing criminalization of youth and people living with HIV—are working in tandem to make already-difficult lives more burdensome and dangerous.

LGBT youth are disproportionately susceptible to being thrown out of their homes and forced to fend for themselves at a young age, often “triggering a lifetime of economic and social instability. … Family rejection and homelessness are top predictors that a young person will come in contact with the juvenile justice system because of police targeting of homeless and low-income communities and people engaged in survival economies—such as drug sales, sex work, and other criminalized activity—to quite literally survive. Schools can also play a critical role in pushing youth onto the streets, from hostile school climates that leave LGBT youth feeling unsafe, to harsh discipline policies that have a disparate impact of perpetuating a school-to-prison pipeline.”

A longitudinal study (PDF) by Kathryn E. W. Himmelstein and Hannah Bruckner finds that “LGB and gender non-conforming youth, especially gender non-conforming girls, are three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment and wind up in the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ than their non-LGB counterparts. These differences in punishment cannot be explained by greater engagement in illegal or transgressive behaviors by LGBT youth, but rather by the reality that LGBT youth are punished more harshly when engaging in the same behavior as their peers.”

Religion compels us to fight the unjust, prejudiced systems that cause and perpetuate that misfortune.

Finding themselves on the streets, struggling to survive, our young people are forced to engage in activities that propel them toward a system of suspicion, targeting and arrest by law enforcement. Even those who are not engaging in those activities are under suspicion for doing so, with the mere possession of a condom sometimes used as evidence of suspected “prostitution.” Such suspicion and potential arrest renders LGBT youth less likely to take precautions to avoid HIV infection or to be tested for it.

Bishop Robinson’s full article at the Daily Beast is here.

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