This is an archive of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP's) electronic newsletter OJJDP News @ a Glance. The information in this archived resource may be outdated and links may no longer function. Visit our website at for current information.
July | August 2016

How OJJDP Is Meeting the Needs of At-Risk and Justice-Involved LGBTQI-GNC Youth

This past June, in honor of Pride Month, Administrator Listenbee blogged about the Office’s commitment to addressing the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, intersex, or gender nonconforming (LGBTQI-GNC) youth. Through a multipronged approach that includes hosting a listening session, providing grants, and supporting research and more inclusive mentoring practices, OJJDP is working to ensure that LGBTQI-GNC youth are treated fairly and equitably while involved in the juvenile justice system.

Keith Towery, Grant Management Specialist at OJJDP and point person on LGBTQI-GNC issues, delves more into the Office’s support for LGBTQI-GNC youth in the following interview with OJJDP News @ a Glance.

Keith ToweryKeith Towery

How and why did you become involved in LGBTQI-GNC work?

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1990s and early 2000s, I saw a lot of kids get kicked out of their homes after coming out. Those kids ended up walking the boulevard soliciting sex in exchange for money, or being recruited to “gay houses,” which were notorious for encouraging them to commit offenses ranging from shoplifting to identity theft. While working at the juvenile hall as an adult, I also saw how uncomfortable staff were with dealing with gay kids in their unit, often sending them to the Special Handling Unit to avoid doing “extra work.” Such experiences made me very interested in helping the next generation of LGBTQI-GNC youth understand that some people could genuinely care about their wellbeing.

What are some of the unique challenges LGBTQI-GNC youth face, and why do a disproportionate number of these youth end up in the juvenile justice system?

As Administrator Listenbee pointed out in his blog post, LGBTQI-GNC youth face many challenges that increase their likelihood of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system.

LGBTQI-GNC youth experience a higher rate of incarceration compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Some studies suggest that LGBT youth make up 5–7 percent of the entire youth population in the United States, but are detained at a rate of upwards of 15 percent in facilities and residential placements. While in detention, these youth are often bullied, sexually victimized, harassed, and are prone to suicidal ideation.

In addition, the adults that we entrust to care for justice-involved youth often hold biases against LGBTQI-GNC youth that can decrease the quality of care that they receive, causing them to run away or discontinue treatment in programs.

Multiple reports indicate that LGBT youth comprise up to 40 percent of the homeless youth population, a factor that makes them more likely to engage in “quality-of-life” and misdemeanor crimes for food and shelter.

Some studies also found that, in school, gender nonconforming students were more likely to receive harsher sanctions, including suspension or expulsion, than other students.

Other studies suggest that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and, especially, transgender youth have more contact with police because they are assumed to be sex workers.

While in custody, LGBTQI-GNC youth may also have to contend with inadequately trained staff and narrowly focused policies that don’t take their right to privacy, confidentiality, and gender identity/expression into consideration.

In his blog post, Administrator Listenbee stated that, “a comprehensive approach is needed to better serve this population.” What might such an approach look like?

To fully address the diverse needs of this population, OJJDP will need to forge partnerships with federal agencies, such as the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. All of these agencies can contribute to addressing the unique needs of this population through targeted support to their specialized state, local, and community partners to strengthen their system of care networks.

What is the federal government doing to show its support for LGBTQI-GNC youth and to better understand and respond to their needs?

The LGBTQI-GNC community truly has the support of the present Administration.

On June 24, 2016, President Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument as the newest addition to America’s national parks system. Stonewall is the first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights. In 2012, the White House partnered with the Justice and Education Departments and the University of Texas at Arlington to host the White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities, the third in a series of White House conferences focused on LGBT issues.

The Department of Justice and OJJDP have played important roles in advancing better treatment for LGBT youth across the country. One of the recommendations in the Report of the Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, released in 2012, required that care and services be provided to address the special circumstances and needs of LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system. In response to this recommendation, OJJDP released multiple mentoring solicitations that encouraged applicants to submit designs that intentionally included LGBT youth in their programming.

OJJDP has also made efforts to hear directly from LGBTQI-GNC youth and their advocates. In 2014, the Office held a listening session titled "Creating and Sustaining Fair and Beneficial Environments of LGBTQ Youth," and recently released a report on ideas emerging from the session. In September 2015, the Office awarded a grant to Impact Justice to analyze the disparities in the pathways into incarceration for LGBTQI-GNC girls arrested for prostitution.


We also just offered the first “Train the Trainer” session for juvenile justice professionals in Harris County, TX.

The training borrowed from the Toward Equity: Trainer’s Guide curriculum created by the Equity Project to provide practitioners with increased knowledge, tools, and resources for working with LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system. It included an examination of local and state laws, a review of Prision Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requirements, and a survey of various literature on LGBTQI-GNC matters. The training builds on the work being done by NEST, a countywide effort to prevent and end homelessness among LGBTQ youth in Harris County by 2020. NEST is an example of the kind of comprehensive approach Administrator Listenbee mentioned in his blog post. It’s coordinated by the Montrose Center/Hatch Youth, led by the Coalition for the Homeless Houston/Harris County, and guided by HUD and OJJDP.


Our Office is currently working with multiple individuals and organizations to assess next steps for training, programming, and policy.


What steps can juvenile justice and other youth-serving professionals take to better understand and address the needs of this population?

Juvenile justice and other youth-serving professionals can examine their own biases; participate in competency trainings to learn about sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, and risk and protective factors for LGBTQI-GNC youth; review their state and local nondiscrimination laws; and familiarize themselves with PREA regulations and reporting requirements.

With adequate training, professionals can then revise their organizations’ internal policies to reflect what they have learned and take steps to facilitate data collection on LGBTQI-GNC youth.

All the training in the world can’t substitute for actually connecting with these youth, however, so it’s important that professionals foster one-on-one relationships with LGBTQI-GNC youth. The National Institute of Corrections' web-based training, “Communicating Effectively and Professionally With LGBTI Offenders,” is a great starting point for people who may be a little uncomfortable talking about sexual orientation and gender identity and/or expression with youth.


Keith Towery is a Grant Management Specialist in OJJDP’s Innovation and Research division. He serves as the Office’s point person on all issues relating to LGBTQI-GNC youth, as the OJJDP liaison on the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice’s LGBT subcommittee, and as an LGBT Co-Special Emphasis Program Manager with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office for Office of Justice Programs employees. Keith has worked at OJJDP for approximately 2 years, and he continues to learn more about the federal government and administering justice related programs for special populations involved in the juvenile justice system.