Family Equality Council Tells Justice Department: Don’t Erase LGBTQ Youth from Research on Violence

Family Equality Council, along with numerous other child welfare, LGBTQ, and anti-violence groups responded with a resounding NO to a Department of Justice (DOJ) proposal to eliminate sexual orientation and gender identity questions for 16- and 17-year olds from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

NCVS is a critical tool for policymakers, law enforcement, and social service agencies to develop policies and interventions to reduce crime and protect victims. The large survey is critically important as it captures crime victimization for unreported crimes, providing a more accurate picture of crime victims’ experiences.  And the mission and purpose of the Bureau of Justice Statistics at DOJ is to provide policymakers and policymaking institutions at the federal, state, local, and international level with information to develop interventions to prevent crime.  It’s outrageous that DOJ plans to stop collecting data on victimization of a particularly vulnerable group that suffers higher rates of violence, harassment, and bullying than their peers: LGBTQ youth.

The erasure of LGBTQ crime victims follows a well-documented pattern by the current administration to erase data on LGBTQ people generally and LGBTQ youth specifically.  Family Equality Council has opposed moves to erase transgender elders from the Older Adults Survey.  The Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign has led efforts to oppose HHS’ proposed delay and elimination of data collection on LGBTQ youth in foster care.  And last week, we submitted detailed comments opposing the proposed erasure of LGBTQ young crime victims.

Ironically, DOJ’s proposal comes as HHS researchers and policymakers are investigating crime against LGBTQ youth and struggling to find policy solutions.  In recent years, Congress has included protections of LGBTQ people including youth in laws enacted to prevent violence against women and hate crimes.  During this May’s National Foster Care Month, Chapin Hall released research showing that LGBTQ homeless youth were more likely to have been in foster care than their non-LGBTQ counterparts, and often choose to avoid child welfare agencies that have a bad reputation for serving them.  These very same youth are subjected to much higher levels of victimization once on the streets:  they were more than twice as likely to report “being forced to have sex” and over 30% more likely to report being “physically harmed by others” than their heterosexual and cisgender homeless counterparts. LGBTQ homeless youth were found to have twice the death rate of other youth.

Child welfare agencies are required by statute to promote safety, well-being, and permanence of youth in state care.  HHS-funded research clearly details that they are failing LGBTQ youth in all three areas.  Indeed, it could be that many states’ failure to achieve positive outcome statistics for youth in their care may be due to the particularly poor outcomes of LGBTQ youth.  But without data, we will never know – and we will never be able to either hold states accountable or hold them up as models for how well they are protecting our youth.  If HHS refuses to measure outcomes for LGBTQ foster youth, and DOJ refuses to measure victimization of LGBTQ youth generally, states will not have tools at their disposal to design improved interventions and achieve better outcomes as the law requires.  Let’s hope that neither proposal to erase LGBTQ youth survives the scrutiny of public comment.

It is outrageous that DOJ and HHS wish to deprive good actors in child welfare of the data they urgently need to protect and serve the youth in their care.  Erasing the visibility of LGBTQ youth won’t make them disappear.  Instead, our youth will become collateral damage as youth service agencies – whether they serve foster, homeless, trafficked, or victimized youth —  struggle mightily to improve children’s lives, but now will be deprived of critical tools to do so.