We the People: Why Congress Must Pass a Comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Act

Guest blog post by Sharita Gruberg, Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress

Photo: JBrazito

Photo: JBrazito

As we celebrate our victories on marriage equality, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people continue to face discrimination in their daily lives that prevent them from being full participants in society.  LGBT people are excluded from exercising basic rights in the majority of states. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire, refuse housing, or deny service to people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  For example, in 11 states, a same-sex couple can legally marry, but they can legally be fired from their jobs for doing so.

This week, the Center for American Progress released a groundbreaking report calling on Congress to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public accommodations, housing, credit, and federal funding. Since these basic areas of life are so closely interconnected, a comprehensive approach to addressing discrimination against LGBT people is necessary. The report examines how LGBT people are excluded from explicit protections against discrimination in these core areas of life and the impact of this exclusion, such as disproportionate rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.  A survey found discrimination in employment resulted in 1 in 4 of all transgender respondents and 30 percent of Latino transgender respondents being fired from a job. Workplace discrimination is not limited to being fired from a job, 43 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers reporting discrimination or harassment on the job. LGBT people face discrimination in other areas of life as well, with 1 in 4 same sex couples experiencing discrimination when trying to buy a home and 1 in 5 transgender people being denied equal treatment in hotels and restaurants.

As the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, NCLR believes all people deserve equal treatment. When it comes to LGBT equality, NCLR sees it as one part of the larger fight for civil rights and has said that “[e]nsuring fairness and equality while protecting people from discrimination is at the heart of NCLR’s mission.” No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love. A report by the Human Rights Campaign and League of United Latin American Citizens found that LGBT Latino youth are twice as likely as non-LGBT Latino youth to say they don’t “fit in.” As CAP’s report found, more than half of k-12 LGBT students feel unsafe at school. While acceptance starts at home, it is imperative that we ensure our young people grow up in a society that treats them equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Giving Latino Students a Feel for the STEM Field

STEMphoto

Photo: Opensource.com, Creative Commons

Last week, 90 students from around the country descended on Houston to get some hands-on and close-up experience with working engineers. The NCLR STEM Youth Summit, sponsored by Marathon Oil, gave students the opportunity to get a feel for what it’s like to work in a STEM field and allowed them to ask questions about what a career in STEM means. The event was highly successful, and one student even decided this weekend, after hearing two of the guests speak, that they want to pursue a career in engineering!

Below are some other highlights from the day-long event.

 

Addressing Culture: Mental Health Care for Youth in Latino Communities

Patricia Foxen, PhD, Deputy Director of Research, NCLR

JailBars

Photo: Michael Coghlan

The psychological health of Latino youth has become an increasingly urgent issue for our nation to address. This is not only because of the rising importance of the young Latino demographic, but also because of the intimate connection between mental health and all other aspects of an individual and community’s well-being. Most young Latinos are coping, and even thriving, in the face of challenging circumstances. However, recent surveys show that Hispanic adolescents are more likely to struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues than Black or White teens. Latino youth who develop mental health problems, which can range from depression and trauma to substance abuse and conduct problems, are likely to fail or drop out of school, to not get appropriate treatment, and to be misdiagnosed, often due to a lack of cultural knowledge on the part of health practitioners.

Of particular concern is the fact that juvenile detention has become a dumping ground for minority youth with mental health issues. Indeed, a significant portion of incarcerated Hispanic youth has one or more diagnosable mental or substance use disorders. Within detention facilities themselves, mental health problems often go undetected and untreated. Moreover, Latino youth in these facilities are exposed to a highly punitive system and are more likely than White youth to be sentenced to adult prisons, which exacerbates psychological problems for these youth.

JUVENILE JUSTICE LatinAmericanCoalition-02_resizedWhat are the main factors that contribute to psychological vulnerability among Latino youth? Most risk factors stem from the social and environmental contexts within which a majority of Latinos reside. Over half of Latino kids under age 18 live in families where at least one parent is an immigrant. With parents who struggle at low-wage, unstable jobs—and in some cases are either undocumented or have been deported—Latino adolescents often have to work to supplement their family’s income. These teens often take on other adult roles as well, which can contribute to disrupted schooling and heightened anxiety. An especially difficult dynamic for young second-generation Hispanics, who are the majority of Latino youth, is the fact that immigrant parents and their U.S.-born children often acclimate to U.S. society in different ways and at different rates, often causing significant tension within the family. This type of dynamic, labeled “acculturative stress” by clinicians has been closely associated with a wide range of mental health issues for youth, including high suicide attempt rates among young Latinas.

Poverty among Latino families is another major risk factor. Sixty-three percent of Hispanic kids live in low-income families (compared to 29 percent of White children). Many attend overcrowded schools and live in poor neighborhoods characterized by crime, gangs, violence, and drugs. For those who live in areas of rampant anti-immigrant sentiment, discrimination and bullying can exacerbate already tough circumstances. The stress of living in such environments is hazardous to the well-being of young Latinos, and researchers have connected this stress to a higher likelihood of major depressive disorders, anxiety, antisocial activity, and physical aggression.

ModelsForChange_1In order to improve Latino youths’ prospects of attaining healthy, productive lives, greater efforts must be made to change the environmental factors described here. Also it is important to enhance culturally appropriate psychosocial services and provide the resources that will enable youth to receive treatment. Numerous examples of effective, culturally centered, research-based interventions exist (including, for example, Jovenes Nobles, Cuento Therapy, as well as mainstream therapies that have been culturally adapted to particular groups). While these should be customized and expanded to Latino communities throughout the country, further support should also be given to developing and evaluating promising new programs that respect local, community-based treatment approaches. Within the broader juvenile justice sector, systems reform and community outreach—as promoted, for example, by the Models for Change initiative and the W. Haywood Burns Institute—should be supported.

The key to successful mental health interventions for Latino youth is that  interventions take into account the broader context of culture, family, and community. The interventions should focus on building on the strengths of young Latinos, healing community wounds, and providing concrete pathways toward success and mental health. These programs can go a long way toward curbing the growing incidence of psychological distress among young Hispanics, and ensuring that our Latino youth become vibrant, productive adults.

A Second Chance for Justice

By Leticia Tomas Bustillos, Associate Director, Education Policy Project, NCLR

ModelsForChange_1Several years ago I attended a dedication ceremony for a new grant-funded program that would enable young men to acquire valuable skills in the trades: electrical work, plumbing, cabinetry, and others. As I walked around the cavernous room looking at the impressive displays of student work, I had to remind myself that I was at a juvenile detention center and that the 20 students in brown jumpsuits had been incarcerated for various offenses. What was not so difficult to forget were the faces of the incarcerated—all young men of color.

At this particular facility the statistics painted a bleak picture: over half of the young men were Latino and nearly one-quarter were Black. Of those, as many as 40 percent were identified as special needs and 40 percent were English language learners. These statistics are not unique to this setting, but rather evident in national figures which show that Latinos represented nearly one-quarter of all juvenile offenders in a residential facility in 2011. In fact, research indicates that Hispanics are 16 percent more likely than their counterparts to be adjudicated delinquent, 28 percent more likely to be detained, and 43 percent more likely to be waived to the adult system. More recent research of national trends suggests that despite juvenile justice reforms in the last decade, young men of color are more likely to be remanded to secure facilities, thus composing the largest population under confinement.

How these high-school-aged youth landed in the detention center I can only imagine, as our conversations were limited to their projects, the courses they were taking to acquire new skills, and what they hoped to do with these skills. What we do know is that systems which aim to be fair, such as our education and criminal justice systems, can perpetuate and exacerbate challenges unique to Latino youth, who are at tremendous risk of failing academically and falling prey to dangerous social situations, including drug abuse and gang affiliation. Data from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division make evident that Latino youth are more likely than their peers to be suspended and expelled from our schools. Such outcomes may be explained by overexposure to under-resourced, overcrowded schools with teachers and counselors who are often ill-equipped to address the unique academic, financial, cultural, and socioemotional challenges these students face daily.

Despite the bleak picture, however, there is reason for hope. The skill-building program in this California juvenile detention center provides youth with practical experiences that would yield gainful employment upon release or, for those returning to school, credits toward graduation. In Philadelphia, Men In Motion In the Community (MIMIC) offers guidance and assistance to Latino youth who are at risk of dropping out of school or having contact with the juvenile justice system. Across the country, the Models for Change initiative has spearheaded investments in key areas of reform for the Latino community, including aftercare, community-based solutions, and dual-status youth, to name a few. Above all, with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Models for Change aims to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and promote a more fair juvenile justice system.

Latinos in our country account for 16 percent  of the total population, and by 2035 one out of every three U.S. residents will be Latino. Today, 34 percent of Latinos are under the age of 18 and one in four students in K–12 schools in the U.S. is Latino. The future of our nation depends more on the potential of Latino children than ever before. While reform does not happen overnight, we can enact practices and funding mechanisms to support efforts that prevent our youth from engaging in risky behaviors, urging them to instead focus on academic and social pursuits that lead to safe, healthy, productive futures. For youth who are currently in the system, practitioners can implement high-quality educational and vocational programs that deliver skills applicable to the 21st-century workplace.

The focus must therefore be on educating young people and not always on incarcerating them. These kinds of programs support positive youth development, reduce the likelihood of recidivism, and facilitate the integration of youth back into our communities. However, it is imperative that community leaders and law enforcement work together to replace the image of a juvenile “justice” system that solely punishes with one that allows youth to correct their mistakes and envision a more hopeful future.

The young men I spoke with talked about becoming plumbers, carpenters, and electricians and even building their own homes. Others talked about the importance of reading their builder’s manual and how they had to improve their math and reading skills to get through their courses. Still others, who had never experienced academic success in a traditional setting but now have found it, talked about going to college for the very first time. These young men of color did not speak of reform or even change; they talked of second chances and new opportunities. Through reform, we can give them both in the name of justice.