By Tamira “Augie” Augustine
“I think about it every day,” says Lisa. “Like, man, if I just coulda remembered my phone.” Lisa has been in and out of juvenile custody for three years after being put out of her home, when her mom found her phone and saw tweets confirming she was a lesbian. “I got out like almost six months ago, but my mom say I can’t come home until I straighten up. I do what I need to do to eat or, like, when I have my period, get pads and stuff. If I agree to do, you know sex stuff, then I can sometimes get enough money for a room, but most times they’ll let me stay the night.”
According to The Center for American Progress, “Gay, transgender, and gender-nonconforming youth are significantly over-represented in the juvenile justice system—approximately 300,000 gay and transgender youth are arrested and/or detained each year, of which more than 60 percent are black or Latino. Though gay and transgender youth represent just 5 percent to 7 percent of the nation’s overall youth population, they compose 13 percent to 15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system.”
The sad reality is that LGBT youth in Houston and all over the country experience abuse, abandonment, and unsafe conditions at home, school, and within their communities. When faced with so much opposition, it makes it almost impossible to succeed or survive. These youth don’t face normal challenges—they have the added misfortune of trying to avoid bullies, protect themselves from parents and siblings, and stay safe and sane every day. LGBT youth face higher risks for drug abuse, suicide, and trafficking because states lack laws to protect LGBT youth, LGBT youth lack mentors and leaders to guide them to safe choices and safe places, and they lack agencies to document why they are committing crimes or why they are out of the home. With all of this working against these youth, where are they left to turn when in trouble?
In Houston it’s estimated close to 40 percent of youth in Harris County Juvenile Justice System are LGBT, with no programs or services for LGBT-identified youth in facility or on probation. In Houston, a group of concerned professionals has formed a project called L.Y.F.E (LGBT Youth Finding Excellence) to facilitate mentoring, life skills, and dealing with family abandonment and abuse. The L.Y.F.E. team has proposed to the Harris County Juvenile Justice department a phased approach to preventing homelessness, by addressing a key pipeline to homelessness—LGBT youth criminalization.
Phase I: Training for juvenile justice staff and probation officers to identify LGBT youth safely, document their stories, be able to address their unique needs, and cultivate a nurturing environment for those youth whom are housed within the juvenile justice facility, skills to re-introduce them to their homes and families, handle coming out, being safe, and how to reach valuable resources if they find themselves in trouble.
Phase II: During phase two, as a part of the community service fulfillment of probation, self-identified LGBT youth enter the L.Y.F.E. skills program. This program encompasses nine months of workshops, skills readiness, life skills from an LGBT perspective, and career readiness aimed at teaching youth how to be productive adults, make good decisions, and what to do if they find themselves in trouble.
Tamira “Augie” Augustine is the Co-Founder of Epsilon Xi Gamma, Inc., the nation’s first and only lesbian and allied Greek Order for collegiate, military, and professional women. Augie has been an acitivist in many realms of the LGBT community for the last 15 years; Lesbian Health, AIDS & HIV Prevention and Education, PRIDE Houston, The TRUTH Project, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and GLSEN.