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Queer youth, no
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Queer youth, no
justice

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A sexual-abuse scandal in the Texas juvenile system highlights the plight of underage LGBT inmates nationwide.

On April 10, two men were arrested for sexually abusing teenage boys under their care at a Texas juvenile facility. John Paul Hernandez had once been principal at the West Texas State School in rural Pyote; Ray Brookins had been the assistant superintendent.

For at least a year, the men had unfettered access to their victims until an investigation by the Texas Rangers uncovered their behavior. Amazingly, the local district attorney and the Texas Youth Commission allowed the men to resign with no consequences. It was not until this February that their purported crimes--and the commission's possible role in covering them up--were exposed, igniting a scandal and prompting reviews of state juvenile systems nationwide.

The controversy is a reminder of what many gay and lesbian teenage inmates undergo all the time. According to Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, there are thousands of LGBT kids in the United States child welfare and juvenile systems--and the powers that be "routinely subject LGBT youth to differential treatment, deny them appropriate services, and fail to protect them from violence and harassment."

Other advocacy organizations have taken notice. Just last year the American Civil Liberties Union won a lawsuit against the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, where gay, lesbian, and trans teens (or those perceived to be LGBT) were sexually and verbally victimized on a daily basis with little or no staff intervention. In New York state "lesbians as well as girls who do not conform to staff stereotypes of girlish behavior" were sometimes sexually harassed and assaulted at the state's two main juvenile units, according to a 2006 report by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU. Expert testimony before the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission last summer revealed that in California's juvenile offender system, LGBT inmates in particular were sexually assaulted in the dorms as a result of "an overarching climate of violence and fear."

In Texas one former inmate at the Pyote facility told The Texas Observer's Nate Blakeslee, who broke the story, that Hernandez and Brookins would single out "feminine boys they thought they could trust not to say anything."

The mother of Joseph Galloway, who was allegedly abused at that same facility, herself a former nurse in the system, tells The Advocate that gay and lesbian youth have an especially tough time reporting sexual contact. Says Genger Galloway: "I think they're shaken off as 'Well, you're gay, so you ought to just take it or like it.' "

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