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CA AG Becerra, counterparts call on feds to maintain LGBT youth crime stats

by Matthew S. Bajko

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, shown at last year's Equality California San Francisco gala, on Friday announced he has joined nine of his counterparts in opposing the Trump administration's move to no longer collect crime data on LGBT teenagers. Photo: Rick Gerharter
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, shown at last year's Equality California San Francisco gala, on Friday announced he has joined nine of his counterparts in opposing the Trump administration's move to no longer collect crime data on LGBT teenagers. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has joined with nine of his counterparts in other states to oppose the Trump administration's move to no longer collect crime data on LGBT teenagers at the federal level.

The coalition of state attorneys general announced Friday morning (May 11) that it had submitted a comment letter to the U.S. Department of Justice opposing its plan to end the collection of data related to violence targeting LGBTQ youth.

In April, the federal agency announced it would no longer ask 16- and 17-year-olds to voluntarily and confidentially disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity on the National Crime Victimization Survey. The justice department said it would raise the minimum age for the questions to 18 "due to concerns about the potential sensitivity of these questions for adolescents."

The state attorneys general contend the survey provides "a critical tool" for knowing if crimes against LGBT youth are being reported and how the criminal justice system is responding to the young LGBTQ victims.

The attorneys general from Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington are signatories of the letter.

"This proposed rollback in data collection would keep parents, schools, law enforcement, and policy experts in the dark about the all-too-common victimization of LGBTQ youth," they wrote in the letter.

Becerra, in a statement Friday morning, criticized the Trump administration for putting its politics ahead of protecting children.

"As a parent, the last thing you want is to send your children off to school and worry about their safety, well-being, and whether they are being bullied or assaulted," stated Becerra. "Abandoning the collection of information about violence against LGBTQ youth is a mistake with serious consequences. Law enforcement agencies, policy makers, and community leaders rely on data regarding crime trends to determine how to prevent bullying, harassment and other abuse from happening."

Late Friday afternoon 56 Democratic U.S. House members, led by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, submitted their own comment opposing the change to the survey questions.

"Other federal studies have shown that young LGBT individuals face higher rates of criminal victimization than their straight, heterosexual peers, including higher rates of being bullied, physically attacked, and threatened with weapons in schools," stated Nadler. "BJS has provided no meaningful justification for changing the NCVS to eliminate information of great interest to policy makers and the public."

Among the signatories are gay Congressmen Mark Takano (CA), Jared Polis (Colorado), David Cicilline (Rhode Island) and Sean Patrick Maloney (New York), as well as Bay Area Representatives Jackie Speier, Mark DeSaulnier, John Garamendi, Barbara Lee, and Zoe Lofgren.

According to a survey of youth in California public schools, those who identified as LGBTQ reported higher rates of abuse, verbal harassment and physical harassment compared to non-LGBTQ youth. LGBTQ youth also reported feeling less safe at school.

The federal justice department, along with the U.S. Department of Education, also published a report that found LGBTQ youth were almost twice as likely to be bullied and threatened or injured by a weapon at school. It also found that such youth are almost twice as likely to be in a physical fight and are more likely to be offered, sold, or given illegal drugs at school.

LGBT groups have criticized the proposed changes to the national crime survey. It has asked since July 2016 all respondents aged 16 and older about their sexual orientations and gender identities, among other personal characteristics such as race and ethnicity.

One of two main sources of data on crime in the United States, the survey "is a vital source of national data," contend LGBT groups, on hate crimes, intimate-partner violence, and other criminal victimization subjects.

"Asking NCVS respondents to voluntarily and confidentially disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity provides crucial data on criminal victimization of LGBT people, who are subject to high rates of hate crimes and other violence," stated Adam P. Romero, the Williams Institute's director of federal policy and a scholar of law at UCLA School of Law. "The Bureau of Justice Statistics at the Department of Justice has been a leader in advancing knowledge about the LGBT population, but the bureau's new leadership seems to want to bury its head in the sand."

The comment period on the proposed change to the survey questions ends Friday. The federal Office of Management and Budget will now review the revision, and if it approves it, it would go into effect within six months of its decision.

A copy of the letter can be found at https://oag.ca.gov/news/press-releases/attorney-general-becerra-data-collection-violence-against-lgbtq-youth-critical.

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