Commission on GLBT Youth To Enact Anti-Discrimination Policies
On Jan. 9, Governor Deval L. Patrick swore in members of the MA Commission on GLBT Youth, an independently run state agency established by law to strengthen the lives of, and procure better opportunities for, Massachusetts' young GLBT people. The Patrick-Murray administration, through a close liaison with the commission, has made strides in improving the lives of young, and often displaced, children throughout the Commonwealth.
"We do what we do as a matter of conscience -- all young people should have a chance to thrive," Gov. Patrick remarked during the swearing-in ceremony. "In that spirit, we will continue to work with the Commission to promote healthy, safe environments for all youth, and provide health education and services to meet the needs of the LGBT population."
The Governor's jacket includes a 2010 landmark anti-bullying law; a 2011 bill that extends critical protections to transgender people in housing, employment, education and protections for hate crimes; and the establishment of the Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Commission with a focus on the GLBT homeless youth population.
According to Commission Chairman Julian Cyr, members who are appointed both locally and regionally -- a maximum of 50 -- serve staggered two-year terms and come from all walks of life: policymakers, teachers, social workers, students, mothers and professionals.
"It's a rather competitive process for regional members to join the commission," Cyr commented. "We had over 70 applications to fill 15 or 20 regional spots this cycle."
Cyr, 26, attributes the competitiveness to an unyielding interest in the welfare of young GLBT people.
"Our members have a real desire to close these gaps [of inequality] and cultivate a culture of support and resiliency," he said.
While there is much more need for education, training and analysis in the adaptation of sexual and gender diversity, the commission, also on Jan. 9, released an extensive 44-page Annual Policy Recommendations FY2014 report.
For the first time, the recommendations were derived out of public hearings held last June. Youth and adults throughout the Commonwealth shared their experiences, providing immediate tangible data of what is and is not working toward the benefit of GLBT youth. Accessing state-funded services, ongoing discrimination and widespread lack of knowledge on GLBT issues and needs were among the difficulties still being faced.
A former student from the Leominster school system testified during the hearings: "The schools were not really gay-friendly. I had my mom's support, and I started a GSA, but I know once I left the school, they didn't do it again. The middle school was all top secret about it. They were like, 'You're allowed to go, but you can't tell anybody about it.' And I think a lot of schools are like that."
"Just today [June 20, 2012], a youth in DCF was told that she could not wear a T-shirt that had a rainbow on it because that means lesbian or gay," Vickie Henry, senior staff attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, reported. "We've also been involved with DCF caseworkers who've done pinky swears with kids in their care to get them to promise that they won't be gay, that they will try to be straight. Otherwise, they won't get into heaven. These are not isolated incidents."
The annual recommendations reflect the state's fiscal calendar and, therefore, are expected to be fully implemented as quickly as possible, according to Cyr. "Some recommendations have already been implemented, others are in the works, several others require appropriations to fund," he said.
A main goal is the implementation of anti-discrimination policies across the board, specifically to include gender identity as described in the 2012 statute An Act Relative to Gender Identity. Another goal is continued training, education and support for anti-bullying in schools.
Also, continued advancements with state agencies such as the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Youth Services will include collecting data and recognizing and educating on the diverse needs of GLBT youth who experience inequality and disparities cross-sectionally, such as but not limited to race, religion, socio-economic backgrounds and physical and mental abilities.
New in partnership this year with the commission is the Department of Early Education and Care. The EEC went live in 2005, and has important priorities working with teen parents and licensing organizations that work with the government.
The commission aims to help the EEC, among in other areas, to enforce GLBT cultural competency as a regulatory requirement for adoption and foster care providers and other government-funded organizations, faith-based and not, that provide social services or that care for children in state custody.
The complete Annual Policy Recommendations FY2014 report may be found on the commission's website at http://www.mass.gov/cgly/commission_on_lgbt_youth_policy_recommendations_fy14.pdf
To apply to become a commission member, go to http://www.mass.gov/cgly/contact.html. Applications currently are not being taken, but new information will be periodically updated.