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Democratic senators introduce bill to protect LGBTQ youth from abuse

This reform will "help victims of abuse recover from the trauma that it brings,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., introduced legislation Tuesday aimed at strengthening support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth who are at risk of or who have suffered child abuse.

“We need to do more to better understand and address the abuse of LGBTQ youth,” Baldwin, one of only two openly LGBTQ people in the Senate, said in a statement. “This reform will help child welfare professionals better protect LGBTQ youth from child abuse and neglect, and help victims of abuse recover from the trauma that it brings.”

Image: Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., leaves a luncheon at the Capitol on Sept. 7, 2016.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., leaves a luncheon at the Capitol on Sept. 7, 2016.Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via AP file

The Protecting LGBTQ Youth Act would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, a 1974 bill that sets standards for defining and reporting child abuse and provides states with federal funding for the investigation, prosecution and treatment of abuse. Though the legislation has been amended several times — it was updated as recently as January following the passing of the Victims of Child Abuse Act Reauthorization Act of 2018 the amendment proposed by Kaine and Baldwin would be the first time the legislation explicitly accounts for LGBTQ youth.

“Abuse has devastating impacts on children’s lives, and more resources are needed to both prevent maltreatment and help those recovering from trauma,” Kaine said in a statement.

LGBTQ youth are almost four times more likely to experience childhood sexual abuse and 20 percent more likely to experience physical abuse from a parent or guardian than their heterosexual peers, according to a 2011 analysis of 37 school-based studies published in the American Journal of Public Health. And the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs, a U.S. government initiative, has reported that LGBTQ youth are “overrepresented in child welfare systems, despite the fact that they are likely to be underreported, because they risk harassment and abuse if their LGBT identity is disclosed.”

The Protecting LGBTQ Youth Act seeks to amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act by calling on government agencies to research ways to protect LGBTQ youth from abuse and neglect, expand demographic information collected in child abuse reports to include sexual orientation and gender identity data, train personnel to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ youth, and have individuals experienced in working with LGBTQ youth and families participate in state task forces.

Ryan Thoreson, an LGBTQ rights researcher at the Human Rights Watch, noted that with the exception of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Violence Against Women Act, there are “very few” federal protections that expressly include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The Protecting LGBTQ Youth Act is representative of the growing recognition that sexual orientation and gender identity shouldn’t be used to make children more vulnerable to discrimination and violence,” Thoreson told NBC News. “States don’t just have a responsibility to respect human rights; they have a responsibility to protect against human rights violations.”

Tim Kaine
Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on "Nuclear Policy and Posture" on Capitol Hill on Feb. 29, 2019.Carolyn Kaster / AP file

Kaine also introduced on Tuesday the Child Welfare Workforce Support Act, which seeks to address high turnover rates among child welfare workers. The bill would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a five-year pilot program that would focus on recruiting, developing and retaining child welfare workers who can “meet the unique needs of infants and children.”

“With high turnover rates among staff, America’s child welfare system often lacks workers needed to care for at-risk youth,” Kaine said. “By strengthening the child welfare work force and specifically addressing the higher rates of abuse among LGBTQ children, these bills would help ensure that our child welfare system better supports vulnerable kids.”