Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

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Youth Project Overview

Like all young people, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) youth need the support of friends, family, and community. Too often, however, LGBTQ youth face rejection, harassment, and isolation. With nowhere else to go and few resources, many end up homeless, in foster care, or trapped in the juvenile justice system.

NCLR’s Youth Project advances the rights of LGBTQ youth through education, public policy, and precedent-setting casework. By bringing the issues faced by LGBTQ youth front and center, we are changing the legal landscape for all youth, and ensuring health and safety for the next generation of all young people.

NCLR was the first LGBT legal organization to introduce a Youth Project. Since 1993, NCLR's Youth Project has worked to ensure that all LGBTQ young people are safe and can live openly with the support they need to reach their full potential by:

  • Providing free legal information to youth, legal advocates, and activists through a toll-free helpline
  • Advocating for policies and legislation that protect and support LGBTQ youth
  • Presenting workshops and developing training materials for school officials, child welfare professionals, and juvenile justice professionals on legal protections for LGBTQ youth
  • Litigating cases that establish legal protections for LGBTQ youth in schools, foster care, the juvenile justice system, and other settings

NCLR educates service providers, advocates for policy changes, provides legal information, and helps youth share their stories, ensuring a brighter future for all LGBTQ young people—in schools, at home, in foster care, and in the juvenile justice system.

youth project | history

Launched in 1993, NCLR’s Youth Project was the nation’s first LGBTQ youth legal program, and originally focused on youth who were abused in the mental health system. Within a year, NCLR had helped hundreds of youth with legal information through its toll-free hotline. By 1995, the project had expanded to protect LGBTQ youth in child welfare, juvenile justice, and school settings. Five years later, the International Human Rights Commission honored NCLR for our advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ youth. In its evolution as a legal program, the Youth Project has also grown to focus on issues and institutions that will have the deepest effect on improving the well-being of low-income LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ youth of color. Through an innovative combination of education, training, advocacy, and litigation, the Youth Project is at the forefront of a major national campaign to stop anti-LGBTQ discrimination against youth in state care, a venue in which many of the neediest LGBTQ youth find themselves.

youth project | major accomplishments

Over the past fifteen years, NCLR’s Youth Project has won numerous cases and awards, making it one of the country’s most effective youth law programs. The International Human Rights Commission; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); and the Vie en Rose Awards have all recognized NCLR for our outstanding work on behalf of LGBTQ young people. In the courtroom, NCLR has won cases protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination and protecting gay-straight alliances in schools at both the state and federal levels; protecting LGBTQ youth from harassment and abuse in their foster homes or juvenile justice facilities; and protecting the rights of transgender youth to transition while they are in state custody. Outside of these landmark victories, the Youth Project develops best practices and model standards for professionals working with LGBTQ youth and advises and informs youth care providers, advocates, attorneys, and judges through presentations at conferences and individual technical assistance.

Equity Project | ensuring fairness for LGBT youth in delinquency courts

NCLR has partnered with Legal Services for Children and the National Juvenile Defender Center on the Equity Project, a multi-year initiative to ensure that LGBTQ youth in the juvenile delinquency court system are treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. The Equity Project examines issues that affect LGBTQ youth throughout the delinquency court process—from arrest through post-disposition—identifying obstacles to fair treatment and developing recommendations to prevent discrimination.


safety in schools

Since 1999, NCLR has worked to establish laws and polices to protect LGBTQ youth in schools, as well as to ensure that once protections exist, they are realized and enforced. NCLR is one of the founding members of the Safe Schools Network, a national network of organizations dedicated to ensuring that LGBTQ youth are free from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in schools. As well, NCLR is on the steering committee of the California Safe Schools Coalition, a statewide partnership of individuals and organizations dedicated to eliminating discrimination and harassment on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in California schools. NCLR has also litigated groundbreaking cases on behalf of LGBTQ students.

ending rape and sexual assault in juvenile facilities

In response to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission came to San Francisco in August of 2005 to hold the second of several national hearings on protecting prisoners in jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities from sexual violence. The Commission asked Youth Project Director and NCLR staff attorney Jody Marksamer to testify about the experiences of LGBTQ incarcerated youth and to present recommendations to end rape and sexual assault against these youth. Click here to read the full written testimony of Marksamer and other LGBT experts. More information about the Commission can be found at www.nprec.us/. A full transcript of the hearing can be found here.

youth project | how we can help

In order to make the world a better place for LGBTQ youth and their allies, NCLR's Youth Project:

  • Provides free legal information to youth, their attorneys, and advocates
  • Trains school officials, child welfare professionals, and juvenile justice professionals on legal protections for LGBTQ youth through workshops and publications
  • Advocates for policies and legislation that protect and support LGBTQ youth
  • Brings cases that establish legal protections for LGBTQ youth in schools, foster care, the juvenile justice system, and other settings

NCLR can help.
Please contact NCLR today if you are:

  • Unsafe at school, in foster care, or in a juvenile justice facility because of your sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Treated unfairly because you are, or are perceived to be, LGBTQ
  • Trying to start an LGBTQ group at school, but are concerned that you won’t be allowed to do so
  • Looking for an LGBTQ-friendly attorney
  • Interested in passing non-discrimination policies at your school or group home
  • Looking for information about your rights
  • Sent to therapy to change your sexual orientation or gender identity by your parents or the state
  • Not allowed to wear the clothes that feel right for your gender at school or in foster care
  • Having problems with your attorney because he or she is homophobic or transphobic

Please contact Shannan Wilber if you have any questions or need help.

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