Overrepresented, Underserved: The Experiences of LGBTQ Youth in Girls Detention Facilities in New York State
Mountz, Sarah Elizabeth
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Among LGBTQ youth, queer women, transgender and gender non-conforming youth have been particularly marginalized in social science research, social service settings, and in the community, where they are especially vulnerable to violence and significantly more likely to become involved with law enforcement. This is particularly the case for queer young women, transgender and gender non-conforming youth of color and/or youth who are low-income. For my dissertation research, I conducted an oral ethnography with young adults, ages 18-25, who have been incarcerated in girls detention facilities in the juvenile justice system in New York State. The study design used the principles of Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and was facilitated by a Community Advisory Board composed of practitioners, legal advocates, researchers, activists, and young people. Life History Interviewing was used to gain insight into participants' pathways prior to, and following their involvement with the juvenile justice system, in order to identify life choices, systemic barriers, experiences of violence and harassment in detention and elsewhere, and childhood and family history and events. Moreover, Life History Interviews allowed participants to delve richly into questions of how they negotiate their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and race in relation to various contexts, relationships, and systems, over time. Interviews were analyzed using Carol Gilligan's Listening Guide. Findings from the study revealed themes related to identity processes, the role of family acceptance and rejection in systems involvement, pipelines and revolving doors between and amidst child welfare, educational, and juvenile justice systems, the prevalence of interpersonal and state sanctioned violence in participants lives, and participants' tremendous capacity for resiliency and creative modes of collective and community based healing. Findings suggest the profound importance of hearing LGBTQ young adults' own stories about their lives and experiences in the juvenile justice system. Findings also point towards the need to decriminalize young people's survival strategies, and to challenge the use of detention facilities and the rampant abuse of power by law enforcement towards LGBTQ young people. This dissertation research draws upon my direct practice experience with LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system and as a queer activist.