By Grant Smith, National News Writer
At some point between October 29 and November 2, a transgender teen committed suicide while in custody at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, Maine.
As reported by Reuters, the death of the transgender male teen who was held in the female wing of the prison has spurred an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). State officials have confirmed that the youth died and that the teen had been under suicide watch, but have not released any further details of the incident according to the Bangor Daily News, a local media source.
“Not only is it critical to understand what happened with this young person, but this death raises urgent, substantial concerns about the conditions, policies, patterns, and practices at Long Creek and the health, safety and well-being of transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth,” was included in a public letter from lawyers of both the ACLU and GLAD to the Maine Attorney General Janet Mills on November 14.
This development happens at the end of a year where transgender rights and issues have leapt into the public eye.Perhaps the largest lightning rod of debate in 2016 is North Carolina’s HB-2 legislation, or formally, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act passed in March of this year. One piece of the bill that brought controversy was a clause stating that in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates.
Some sources such as ProPublica believe that the most concerning part of the bill lies elsewhere. A separate clause barred local governments from passing anti-discrimination ordinances as had been present in Charlotte, and stripping the right of North Carolina workers to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, which had been protected in courts since 1985. Meanwhile, proponents say it protects privacy and prevents abuse of youth, deeming the bill to be “common sense” as quoted by the New York Times.
It is these issues of possible discrimination that have brought intense focus from the ACLU and GLAD onto Long Creek in South Portland. According to the Bangor Daily News, the teen had been frustrated that he was being housed with females instead of males. Other residents of Long Creek have noted that the teen was being harassed.
GLAD has also reported that this is not the first time that the organization has heard of transgender discrimination at Long Creek, citing at least two other cases. A teen recently released from Long Creek stated, “I had seen the person around. And there’s other kids that usually kind of made fun of that person.”
Figures from research by the Center for American Progress have shown that 15 percent and possibly up to 20 percent of teens in the juvenile justice system are transgender, despite only composing five to seven percent of the general population.Polly Crozier, a senior staff attorney for GLAD, stated that transgender teens are at an increased risk of suicide, especially in institutional settings where they can experience hostility and harassment.
The ACLU and GLAD have stated their goal is to discover whether or not Long Creek is providing adequate care for its transgender residents and to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
As of November 16, the Maine Department of Corrections has not commented publicly further than the original announcement.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.
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