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Supporting Vulnerable Youth – What Will You Do?

Paul Sathrum, Senior Policy Analyst, NEA Human & Civil Rights

Did you know that while among the general population of youth in the United States between 5 and 7 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender (LGBT), it is estimated that of homeless youth, between 9 and 45 percent self-identify as LGBT.  This is according to a new report released by the American Center for Progress, Seeking Shelter: The Experiences and Unmet Needs of LGBT Homeless Youth.

These staggering numbers and the unique needs of these youth often go unrecognized by the general public, as well as by youth homeless providers, policy makers and the schools that see and work with them every day.

Based on the work of the American Center for Progress there are five recommendations that could begin to address the unmet needs of this vulnerable population.  They are:

  • Reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act with LGBT-specific provisions.
  • Establish standards that protect LGBT youth from bullying and harassment in schools.
  • Support initiatives that strengthen families with LGBT children, and that promote acceptance and understanding between parents and children.Disassemble the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Initiate efforts to research LGBT youth homelessness and track demographic data on homeless youth that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

In September 2013 we also saw a vivid contrast in how our communities and schools are or are not embracing transgender youth.  In Marina High School in Huntington Beach, CA, Cassidy Lynn Campbell was crowned homecoming queen.  While not the first transgender person to win homecoming queen, it is still a huge step forward in our schools being a supportive, nurturing environment and an institution that celebrates was makes each of us unique and individually beautiful. 

Contrast this with what happened in Richland, PA.  Richland High School senior Kasey Caron was denied the right to run for homecoming king even though while biologically female he identifies as male.  Two very different examples of how our schools are, or are not, embracing our students for who they are and not for who we want or think they should be.

What can you do?  Check out what the National Center for Transgender Equality, in collaboration with the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network, has done by releasing policy guidance for schools, Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students, to help in creating safe and supportive learning environments that allow all students to thrive and excel to their full potential.

My challenge to you is to make your school community one that welcomes and embraces every student and where no one is expected to leave a part of themselves on the front steps of the school building!

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