CA Victory: OCFS Enacts Landmark Policy for Gay and Transgender Youth
In March, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) enacted an agency-wide anti-discrimination policy designed to support and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in state juvenile facilities. It is estimated that ten percent of the thousands of young people in New York’s youth prisons are LGBTQ. Incarcerated LGBTQ young people report being slapped, hit, punched, kicked, threatened, and called names by other residents, with staff members not only failing to protect them, but at times even joining in the abuse.
To address these issues, Mishi Faruqee, Director of the CA’s Juvenile Justice Project, helped OCFS form the “Working Group on LGBT Youth in State Custody,” which she co-chaired alongside OCFS Commissioner Gladys Carrión. Working with OCFS and members from other juvenile justice organizations—Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Peter Cicchino Youth Project of the Urban Justice Center, Legal Aid Society, and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund—the working group helped draft the new policy, which includes comprehensive childcare guidelines for working with LGBTQ youth. Among its provisions, the policy:
- Prohibits anti-LGBTQ threats of violence, actual violence, discrimination or harassment by OCFS personnel or other youth;
- Mandates prompt and thorough reporting, investigation and remediation regarding cases of discrimination or harassment;
- Requires all OCFS staff to attend training on LGBTQ issues;
- Provides transfer options for youth based on sexual orientation, gender identification, or gender expression;
- Establishes procedures for beginning or continuing hormone therapy in accordance with accepted standards of care;
- Requires that facilities make relevant literature and resources available to LGBTQ youth;
- Requires staff to refer to youth by their preferred name and gender pronoun; and
- Permits youth to choose their preferred undergarments and select hair and grooming styles outside of gender norms.
Especially in its sensitivity towards gender identity issues, OCFS’ new policy is among the most progressive of its kind in the country. The CA’s Juvenile Justice Coalition and other members of the working group will continue to collaborate with OCFS to monitor the policy’s implementation, and ensure that it fulfills its potential to create a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ youth.
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