June 27, 2011 Articles

Part 2: LGBTQ Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

By Amanda Valentino

The saying "Never judge a book by its cover" is one of the lessons we were all taught since childhood. It has been used to teach us to look at the whole picture before judging and categorizing an individual. A novel theory, coined "multidimensionality," embraces this well-known saying. Multidimensionality illustrates that, to understand someone, it is necessary to know where he or she comes from and all of the identities that he or she encompasses before trying to address specific needs. This theory can reveal the diverse material, social, and emotional harms that are caused by the interconnectedness of racism, sexism, poverty, and heterosexism. Darren Leonard Hutchinson, "'Gay Rights' for 'Gay Whites'?: Race, Sexual Identity, and Equal Protection Discourse," 85 Cornell L. Rev. 1358, 1368 (2000).

Because not all young clients will be willing to freely speak about his or her orientation or gender identity, possibly because of past trauma associated with coming out to adult family figures, juvenile advocates need to be attentive to who their young client really is. Multidimensionality is the key to understanding clients; it examines the sexual identity (together with race, gender, and class) and the complex life experiences of young clients. An extreme attentiveness to subtle cues and hints at possible issues is needed when working with all young clients because they are usually the most reluctant to place their trust in adults.

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