National Coming Out Day for LGBTQ Youth In Detention?
Thursday, 12 October 2017
By Pepis Rodriguez
This week we recognized National Coming Out Day (NCOD), a celebration of living your truth about who you are, and whom you love.
But as “bathroom bills”, military transgender bans, and elimination of protections for LGBTQ federal employees demonstrate, we are still a long way from a society in which coming out is a realistic option for all. The truth of this likely hits youth the hardest, who still risk family rejection, bullying, even homelessness for coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.
The least we could do, in the wake of the 29th annual NCOD, is demand that LGBTQ youth’s needs are concretely recognized in the agencies and systems created to serve young people. Does your local school district include LGBTQ-supportive sexual health literacy? If not, a great way to honor National Coming Out Day would be to press your local schools to get sexual health literacy out of the closet and into a regular curriculum. By doing this, you not only increase understanding among all youth about a vital aspect of being human, but you will increase health and decrease bullying of LGBTQ youth.
It is intolerable that such programs largely don’t exist in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems where queer youth are represented at more than twice the rate of their numbers nationwide, and where they rely on system officials for their most basic needs, including sexual health care. How do young people in these facilities celebrate NCOD, when their very existence is denied or treated as aberrant?
As it happens, NCOD falls within national Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM). If awareness leads to action, we will see increased advocacy to decrease the number of young people caught up in the so-called justice system. In recognition of the reality that that number is sadly substantial, the Center for HIV Law and Policy’s focus for YJAM is on policy changes that would make NCOD a safe option for all of the young people in detention facilities across the country.
Access to scientifically-sound sexual health care would be a very good start. What’s more, it’s part of the essential care detention facilities are obligated to provide to young people in custody. When youth detention facilities fail to provide a basic part of essential health care, we should hold them accountable.
Comprehensive, LGBTQ-affirming sexual health care includes sexually-transmitted infection diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, including access to condoms and other forms of birth control, pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, and sexual health literacy programming that promotes understanding of the full spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It includes guided instruction on healthy sexual attitudes, relationships, and behaviors. It includes addressing mental health substance abuse. And it includes services that address the violence based on discriminatory views and stereotypes of various sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions.
Professional standards and expert consensus support provision of these health services for all youth. In view of the ballooning rates of STIs, particularly among young people, sexual health care is also smart public health policy.
To learn more about what you can do to make NCOD a safe option for youth in detention and to uphold their sexual health rights, check out TeenSENSE, a project of The Center for HIV Law and Policy.
Pepis Rodriguez is a Staff Attorney at the Center for HIV Law and Policy, a national legal and policy resource and strategy center working to reduce the impact of HIV on vulnerable and marginalized communities and to secure the human rights of people affected by HIV.