BreakOut! Fights Mistreatment of LGBT Youth Within The Justice System

on Tuesday, Jan. 31st

Last week BreakOut!, a New Orleans based LGBTQ organization that focuses specifically on youth impacted by the juvenile justice system, began the first of their anti-discrimination training seminars for the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). The training comes as a result of an investigation and subsequent consent decree by the United States Department of Justice mandating sweeping reforms and trainings throughout NOPD.

As a part of their campaign, “We Deserve Better,” BreakOut! collected testimonials from its members about their run-ins with the police department. The culmination of these testimonials is a video, which is featured on their website and was also shown during their visit to the NOPD training academy.

Wesley Ware, the director and founder of the organization, says that while it may not be the only problem the NOPD faces, it certainly is a large one. He says that the youth—especially African-American transgender women—are subject to abuse by the police on a daily basis. “The Department of Justice actually wrote their investigative report and highlighted those experiences as one of the top areas for concern, in need of reform and policies and training,” said Ware. “There are all sorts of stories that our youth and our members can share and have shared…youth say they’ll be stopped by the NOPD and questioned, not given a reason for being stopped, called all sorts of things — anything from punk to faggot, to dyke or sissy. We even have stories of young people, especially again black transgender women being approached by the NOPD officers and asked for sex.”

Since its launch in 2010 by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, BreakOut! has been a voice for a minority group facing increasing harassment and discrimination in and outside of the justice system. In addition to his work at BreakOut! Ware also helped draft policy surrounding the treatment of LGBTQ youth in detention centers. The policy mandates rooming for transgender youth, private showers, training for staff, and availability of LGBTQ literature in detention centers.  Though many of the reforms highlighted in the policy are geared specifically toward LGBTQ youth, Ware says that, “We’re not just doing these reforms for LGBT youth, but we’re doing them for all young people. LGBT youth just happen to get, often times, the worst of the worst treatment.”

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