A Massachusetts commission recently released its annual recommendations for 19 state agencies aimed at supporting LGBTQ young people.
The Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth is recommending increased data collection and staff training across the offices of education, labor, public safety and health and human services. Hannah Hussey is the commission’s director of policy and research.
“We also look at policy change to lay the groundwork for equitable services,” Hussey said. “We’ve seen this be really successful in the education realm as well as within juvenile justice. Thinking — are there inclusive non-discrimination policies in place that address the needs of LGBTQ young people.”
Created in 1992 focusing on gay and lesbian youth, the commission has expanded its mission and bills itself as the only entity of its kind in the nation.
“Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are still seven times more likely to have a suicide attempt that’s resulted in injury,” Hussey said. “They’re 10 times more likely than heterosexual youth to have tried heroin. So in some instances we have great data, but in other instances there isn’t any sort of systemic tool in place to collect that information. Oftentimes staff who are working with youth feel hesitant about asking sexual orientation or gender identity information or they’re not sure how to do it.”
Among the recommendations are comprehensive sexual education in public schools and training for staff on how to identify what the commission calls hate crimes toward LGBTQ youth. Hussey says the commission is encouraging agencies to designate time and resources toward looking at how homelessness may be impacting the individuals they serve, including those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
“National data suggests that about 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ,” Hussey said. “That’s a huge number. Our recommendations are really about saying that homeless youth who are also LGBTQ are often doubly-marginalized and in order to effectively serve them we need to think about what housing options look like. It’s really hard to solve other problems in your life if you don’t have a safe place to sleep every night.”
The 2013 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that nearly eight percent of students identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual and/or reported same-sex sexual contact. Those students were twice as likely to report being bullied and three times as likely to report being threatened at school than their heterosexual peers. For these reasons and others, additional studies show LGBTQ youth are more likely to skip school or leave an educational institution due to harassment. Hussey says these are among the employment barriers LBGTQ young people face.
“Did anyone give you training on how to manage your LGBTQ identity in the workplace,” Hussy explained. “I know a lot of LGBTQ college students have a lot of stress about the fact that much of their campus leadership experience might have been being president of the gay-straight alliance. Should they come out on their resume? I think there is a lack of people who are teaching LGBTQ young people these skills in addition to broader socio-economic factors that can make it challenging to get a job.”
When she was elected in 2014, Massachusetts’s Maura Healey became the nation’s first openly gay attorney general. The Democrat joined commission leaders in announcing this year’s recommendations and swore in new commission members during a ceremony at the State House.
The commission is backing legislation that would put in place non-discrimination practices for transgender people in public spaces. Because it would allow people to use whatever bathroom corresponds to their gender identity, some call it the “bathroom bill.” Democratic State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield says she wants everyone to be safe and to be treated with basic rights.
“I call it the lunch counter bill because no matter who you are you should be able to be served in a restaurant,” Farley-Bouvier said. “We know that a transwoman, someone who was born male but now identifies as female, who goes into a women’s [bath]room, there have zero incidents of safety issues such as assault or harassment,” Farley-Bouvier said. “There have been hundreds of incidents of a transwoman using the men’s room, which is what people who oppose this bill feel that person should have to use. So it is absolutely a public safety matter.”
The legislation is currently in committee.
Click here for the commission’s report.