Yavapai County Superior Court judge Anna Young remembers inadvertently referring to a youth in her courtroom by the wrong title.
Biologically, the youth was female. However, she had a gender-neutral name and came to Young’s courtroom dressed and groomed as a male.
“I thought this kid was a boy, so from the very first time I met this kid, I said Mr. so-and-so,” Young said. “I only found out later that this kid was a transgender boy.”
Fortunately, it was a well-received slip.
“The kid was ecstatic,” Young said.
This is the outcome Young strives for, but assuming an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not how she usually achieves it.
“In court I’ll use the child’s preferred name, preferred gender, and so does everybody else,” Young said.
It’s a delicate matter that justice officials have been paying more attention to in recent years.
Helping to get everyone on the same page are the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and the National Juvenile Defender Center.
The two organizations recently collaborated to create a bench card with principles and best practices to ensure youth or other juvenile court participants who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and gender non-conforming (LGBTQ-GNC) are treated with respect in the courtroom.
The card also provides researched statistics and conclusions to help outline the issue.
For instance, LGBTQ-GNC youth represent 5 to 7 percent of the nation’s youth population but 20 percent of those in juvenile detention facilities. Such youth are also confined for nonviolent offenses at twice the rate of their gender-conforming peers.
Many within the justice system recognize LGBTQ-GNC youth tend to face unique challenges in life that put them at a higher risk of ending up in the child welfare system, juvenile justice system, or both.
“I think some of the research bears that out,” Young said. “Those are the kids who are more likely to spend more time in detention. They’re more likely to pick up charges. They’re more likely to have family problems because they might not be accepted by the family for who they are.”
Young said the Yavapai County Superior Court has been practicing pretty much all of the standards outlined by the new bench card at least since she started serving as a juvenile judge in 2011.
“It’s a nice refresher, though,” Young said.
The county’s juvenile probation department, on the other hand, is only just starting to get a grip on the matter.
Scott Mabery, director of juvenile probation within Yavapai County, said he and his staff began giving LGBTQ-GNC concerns significant thought about three years ago.
“It’s a hot topic right now and I think everyone is trying to get in line with what we should be doing and how do we protect these kids,” Mabery said. “Had you asked 10 years ago, I think the answer would have been totally different.”
Processing, pat downs, placement; all are changing to match standards that specifically take LGBTQ-GNC into consideration.
“It used to be that males search males and females search females,” Mabery said. “Well, if you have a transgender youth, how do you handle that? There are certain protocols that we’re learning that we should be doing to be sensitive to those issues. It changes everything.”
In the near future, Mabery plans to institute a juvenile delinquent intake tool designed to help with this matter. More than likely, it will simply be asking children what gender they identify with, he said.
“You have to be careful that you’re not discriminating, so what you do for one, you have to do for every kid who comes through the door,” Mabery said.
In the past, children would have to identify themselves as transgender without prompting. Mabery has had several such cases in his time.
Once identified as transgender, it becomes a matter of where to place the child and what accommodations the child may need while within the system.
“It comes down to housing issues; who should they be in a pot with,” Mabery said. “And making staff aware of the issues so that they can head off any bullying or assaults or intimidation or anything like that, so that they know what’s going on with these kids so we can protect them.”
This all falls in line with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was signed into law in 2003 to curb prison rape through a “zero-tolerance” policy, as well as through research and information gathering. All confinement facilities covered under the PREA standards must be audited at least every three years to be considered compliant, according to the National PREA Resource Center.
Yavapai County Juvenile Probation just underwent one such audit this month, causing Mabery to be especially tuned to the potential risks LGBTQ-GNC youth face within his system.
“This is a topic that we are going to tackle and have a pretty firm understanding of in the next year,” he said.