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Two Queer Youths File Suit Alleging Harassment and Abuse While in Oregon Custody

Tillamook Youth Correctional Facility
Image: oregon.gov

The suit alleges Oregon authorities turned a blind eye to anti-LGBTQ+ abuse by other youths and sometimes joined in the abuse.

Two youths have filed suit against the Oregon Youth Authority (YA) alleging physical and verbal abuse from youth and staff at multiple facilities.

Trevor Potter and Makiah Mackey each filed separate lawsuits against the OYA, which provides correctional services for youths in the state prior to their 18th birthday in Oregon. Potter identifies as bisexual and is no longer within custody, while Mackey identifies as pansexual and remains within the OYA.

Potter and Mackey both allege harassment and physical abuse from other youths at various OYA facilities and that staff not only permitted the abuse to continue without punishment for the alleged perpetrators but actively engaged in anti-LGBTQ+ harassment as well.

“It’s not just one person, and it’s not just a case of one facility that has a couple bad apples,” Nicole Lemieux, the attorney for both Potter and Mackey, told the Capital Chronicle. “This really is a lack of policy, a lack of education, both within the agency itself and throughout all of the employees and agents of OYA.”

Lemieux also claimed her clients are not the only youths abused within the OYA because they are LGBTQ+ but are instead the first willing to file suit in court.

Potter claims he was choked and struck on the buttocks while housed at the Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility. He alleges that staff at St. Mary’s refused to act on his complaints that other youths hit him and stole his underwear. Potter also claims in his suit that he endured slurs from staff at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility. When he spoke to staff about other youths striking him, kissing him on the neck, and masturbating while watching him, Potter claims they accused him of complaining too much and “using his sexuality against them to get his way.”

Potter claims he requested a transfer to a different facility to escape the abuse and lack of accountability for his alleged abusers but says he was told to “get used to homophobia because the majority of the United States population is homophobic, and MacLaren staff won’t change.”

When he was finally transferred to Tillamook Youth Correctional Facility, he claims he endured more harassment and physical assaults from other youths because of his sexual identity and that staff there also ignored his complaints. Potter alleges in his suit that he was subjected to a failed attempt at sodomy using a pen and a mop handle along with getting choked and hit while at Tillamook.

In his suit, Mackey alleges similar harassment and abuse from staff and other youths housed at the Grants Pass and MacLaren Youth Correctional facilities. Additionally, he claims staff at Grants Pass limited his contact with and forced him to shower at different times from the rest of the youths at the facility. Mackey also alleges in his suit that he was forced to attend events featuring anti-LGBTQ+ religious leaders who allegedly told him he was going to hell because of his sexual identity. He also alleges staff told him they would not act on his complaints because his “allegations of sexual harassment aren’t as important” as they were based on his sexual orientation.

Through a spokesperson, the OYA refused comments on the specifics of the case while it is pending, but claimed its facilities and policies protect and affirm LGBTQ+ youth.

“OYA provides an inclusive, safe and positive human development environment for all youth in its custody, including youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, gender fluid or gender diverse,” OYA spokesperson Jenny Smith said in a statement.

In court, the lawyers from the Oregon Department of Justice said Mackey and Potter failed to establish a legal claim for a lawsuit and will provide more information in future filings.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for November 17.

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