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The government needs to do more than reach at risk LGBT youth after they get into trouble, says the Williams Institute.

The University of California, Los Angeles, think tank released its findings and recommendations in a January study called “Ensuring Access to Mentoring Programs for LGBTQ Youth,” presenting step-by-step direction on how to help the 1.6 million at-risk LGBT youth that could benefit from such measures.

“Programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs of America have the potential to provide life-changing experiences for LGBTQ youth,” said Williams Institute Executive Director Brad Sears, who co-authored the study. “Trainings for staff and mentors and outreach to LGBT youth are just a couple of effective strategies organizations can use to help reduce the currently high LGBTQ youth involvement with the juvenile justice system.”

While this may seem to be a given, research shows that there is evidence showing that some organizations are unwelcoming of LGBTQ youth, and discriminate against them when they try to seek services.

According to the institute’s study:

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, which may be due, in part, to selective enforcement of criminal laws against them. They also experience higher rates of family rejection, school harassment and bullying, homelessness and a host of other factors related to their identity that put them at increased risk of involvement with the system. Youth mentoring organizations are designed to address the challenges at-risk youth face in their daily lives, but here’s what the institute recommends can be done to fix some of these issues:

Adopting internal policies and practices

Youth mentoring programs can adopt a number of policies and practices to ensure that their programs are accessible and welcoming to LGBTQ youth.

How? Like this:

  • Sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, and confidentiality policies
  • Inclusion of LGBTQ identity-affirming language on websites and other materials
  • Staff trainings focused on “best practices” for mentoring LGBTQ youth
  • Outreach practices targeting LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ-affirming mentors

Establishing LGBTQ-focused youth mentoring programs

Government and foundations can encourage development of private programs for mentoring LGBTQ youth.

Implementing non-discrimination requirements in youth mentoring program grants

To further the objectives of youth mentoring programs, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the Department of Justice has the authority to issue guidance prohibiting grantees from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to designate LGBTQ youth as an underserved population, and to specifically fund programs for LGBTQ youth.

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