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The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth is pleased to release our Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) Policy Recommendations to nearly 20 state agencies.

In June 1992, almost exactly 25 years ago, Governor William Weld swore in the first members of what was then the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. The first report of the Governor’s Commission painted a bleak picture for lesbian and gay youth, highlighting frequent experiences with suicide, school violence, and family rejection. Indeed, as a  a senior at Wareham High School testified during the Commission’s first set of public hearings:

I was spit on, pushed, and ridiculed. My school life was hell. I decided to leave school because I couldn’t handle it…After three years of conditioning, I forgot all the things my mother taught me. I lost respect for myself and wanted to die.

Much has changed since 1992. Massachusetts has led the nation in implementing supportive policies for LGBTQ youth in and out of schools, including guidance on supporting transgender students and a Department of Youth Services policy on LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system that are now national models. In partnership with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Commission has implemented the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students to improve school climate, implement nondiscrimination laws, and promote student leadership in hundreds of schools across the state each year.

Disturbingly, however, much remains the same. Conversations with LGBTQ youth, educators, service providers, and families reveal significant gaps in housing instability, family support, sexual health, and criminalization. Data suggest that even where health outcomes have improved for all youth, alarming disparities persist, with LGBTQ youth experiencing higher rates of substance use, school bullying, sexual violence, homelessness, and poor physical and mental health. The data point to even more alarming trends among transgender youth, youth of color, and youth experiencing homelessness.

Ending these disparities will happen only with dedicated resources, focused attention, and sustained collaboration among all involved. In the FY18 Recommendations, the Commission sets out a plan for state agencies to build a strong foundation for working with LGBTQ young people and celebrating their whole selves, including nondiscrimination policies and guidance, cultural competency training, and clear, consistent, and modern data standards.

The Commission is also eager to explore innovative policies and programs to address issues related to family rejection, homelessness, healthcare, justice system involvement, and violence prevention for LGBTQ youth.

Twenty-five years after the founding of what remains the first and only LGBTQ youth commission in the country, we must approach our shared work with no less urgency than the first group of Commission members in 1992 in order to finally realize a vision in which all youth in the Commonwealth thrive.

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