The idea of being in prison is bad enough, especially for a young person. When the other youth in the facility attack and abuse you, who do you tell? When the guards call you” a disgrace to mankind,” a “punk” or “f*$king faggot,” what do you do?

It’s not a very pleasant world for an incarcerated LGBT youth, and a recent article in The Nation gives a vivid picture of how bad it is for LGBT kids who wind up in correctional facilities. What’s worse is that many are jailed prior to their trials in inordinate numbers. According to the article, “in Louisiana, 50 percent of the gay youth picked up for nonviolent offenses in 2009 were sent to jail to await trial, while less than 10 percent of straight kids were.” Louisiana is not alone. The same holds true for many states.

Once in a facility after a conviction, gay youth report constant attacks, rapes and little if any recourse. Many are placed in isolation after an attack rather than punishing their attackers. It’s a no-win situation and it is made worse by the disproportionate number of LGBT youth in the system.

An LGBT youth’s problems with the law frequently begin at home. “LGBT youth are more likely to be arrested than straight youth because they’re more likely to be pushed out of their homes,” says Dr. Beyer. And “family rejection is a direct pipeline to the juvenile justice system,” says San Francisco State University researcher Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project. While only 3-10 percent of Americans are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, LGBT youth make up 15 percent of the prison population. Indeed, one-quarter of all LGBT youth are kicked out of their homes or run away. Compared to their heterosexual peers, incarcerated LGBT youth are twice as likely to report abuse at the hands of family members, homelessness or state-ordered foster placement. A shocking estimated 20-40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT.

This article is worth a read and worth thinking about. As a community, we have to start recognizing the problems specific to LGBT youth and finding ways to address them.

— Hardy Haberman