Education and Youth Policy

With increased access to information through the internet and social media, young people are coming out as LGBTQ or non-binary at much younger ages. Even those fortunate enough to have the love and support of their parents and guardians may find their schools to be hostile and sometimes dangerous environments. In addition, LGBTQ youth who experience homelessness or live in the foster care or juvenile justice systems are particularly at risk of violence, harassment and discrimination.

Why is this important?

Education

Schools that are not affirming of LGBTQ youth negatively impact the health, wellbeing, and academic achievement of students across the state.

In 2017, GLSEN’s School Climate in Maryland survey concluded that Maryland schools are not safe for LGBTQ students. In fact, according to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey (YRBS), 43% of LGB students in Maryland seriously considered attempting suicide in 2017, a risk five times higher than their heterosexual peers. This disproportionate risk is in large part due to the harassment and discrimination LGBTQ youth face in school. According to the YRBS, 1 in 3 LGB students reported being bullied on Maryland school property, and according to GLSEN’s School Climate in Maryland survey, over 80% of LGBTQ students often heard LGBTQ-phobic remarks.

To address these structural inequities, GLSEN’s 2017 National climate Survey showed the effectiveness of teaching appropriate and accurate information about LGBTQ people, history, events, and sex education through inclusive curricula. Students who attend schools with inclusive curricula are less likely to experience harassment and discrimination, more likely to feel safe in schools, less likely to miss school, and more likely to perform better academically. In short, these resources contribute to the creation of affirming and empowering schools where LGBTQ students have the opportunities to succeed. Currently, fewer than 8% of students in Maryland public schools report receiving LGBTQ-inclusive sex education at school.

During FreeState Justice’s statewide listening sessions in 2016, respondents also shared that there was little access to inclusive sex education in their schools. Several participants shared that teachers refused to talk about LGBTQ issues for fear of offending parents or administrators. Many students shared that their sex education curriculum focused on solely on abstinence or ignored LGBTQ populations when discussing safer sex and healthy relationships. By ensuring teachers have the qualifications to teach family life and human sexuality, including medically accurate information on contraception and condoms, and requiring an equity lens in health education, the proposed regulations would effectively address these barriers.

Homelessness, Foster Care, and Juvenile Justice  

Youth REACH Maryland has shown that the levels of youth homelessness in Maryland is higher than previously estimated official count of 2,425. They also demonstrate that LGBTQ youth experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate compared to their straight and cisgender peers: at least 20% of homeless youth identified as LGBTQ in the Youth REACH survey. Homelessness can be caused by many factors, including escaping an abusive relationship, being rejected by family members for one’s gender identity or sexual orientation, and recent exits from the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. And youth who experience homelessness are at higher risk for food insecurity, poor physical health, sexually transmitted infections, poor mental health including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, unhealthy substance use, exposure to violence, exploitation and victimization, being arrested, poor school attendance and performance, and dropping out of school.

Similarly, LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice and foster care systems and often experience compounded discrimination and violence for their sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, in the foster care system, LGBTQ youth have a higher average of placements and are more likely to live in group settings. A study of LGBTQ youth in foster care in New York found that 78% tried to run away from their foster home, 100% of those living in group homes experienced verbal harassment, and 70% reported experiencing physical abuse.

Similarly, research shows that at least 20% of youth in American juvenile detention facilities identify as LGBTQ, a rate three times higher than that in the general population. And LGBTQ youth confined in juvenile facilities are at least seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted by other youth compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers.

What are the Issues and What Can We Do?       

LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, foster care, and juvenile detention

  • In 2018, FreeState Justice worked with coalition partners to pass the Ending Youth Homelessness Act, which appropriates funds to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to set up an accountable, transparent grant program to expand housing and support services for youth experiencing homelessness in an accountable way. In the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, FreeState has worked to ensure that this act is appropriately funded.

Creating affirming and inclusive schools

  • In 2020, FreeState Justice submitted testimony supporting the passage of new guidelines by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) that required the development of equitable curricula, including scientifically accurate and LGBTQ affirming sex education. FreeState also supported legislation that codify these guidelines into Maryland law. The passage of these regulations will increase the number of schools teaching inclusive and equitable information, improving the quality of life for LGBTQ students across the state. And their adoption into law will strengthen their enforceability.