LGBT Youth in Detention: Myth and Reality

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Myth #1: “Adolescents are too young to know that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
Reality: A research study of lesbian, gay, bisexual youth found that the average age of awareness about sexual orientation was 10.1 The average age that youth first disclosed their sexual orientation was 14.2

Myth #2 “LGBT youth are manipulative.”
Reality: Individuals who are targeted for abuse and harassment have to find ways to protect themselves. Unfortunately, administrators and detention workers sometimes label these survival strategies as “manipulative behavior.” If an LGBT youth is seeking special treatment or privileges (e.g. taking individual showers, not participating in gym), facility staff should seek to find out the underlying reasons for these requests.

Myth #3 “Gay and lesbian youth should be discouraged from being too open about their sexual orientation (“acting too gay”) in order to protect them from being harassed and to prevent them from influencing other youth.”
Reality: Chastising LGBT youth for being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity further damages their self esteem and makes them feel responsible for anti-gay abuse. Unfortunately, LGBT youth are often placed in more restrictive settings either in an effort to protect them from abuse or based on the incorrect assumption that they are more likely than a heterosexual youth to act out sexually. This practice means that LGBT youth are being treated more harshly within the system simply because of their sexual and/or gender orientation.

Myth #4: “Kids pick on each other for a range of things (being too fat, living in another neighborhood, having a big nose) so being picked on for being gay is no different.”
Reality: It is true that no form of bullying should be tolerated. However, it is also important to specifically address homophobia within the facility. LGBT youth have often been rejected by their families and harassed at school. It is important to stem this cycle of harassment and mistreatment.

Myth #5: “LGBT youth in our detention centers never complain about mistreatment. This must mean that they are being treated fine.”
Reality: Don’t misinterpret “no news” as “good news.” The reality is that teenagers are less likely to make complaints than adults

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