How Intersectionality Promotes Equitable Opportunities for Children and Youth

Posted August 31, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog intersectionalitypromotesopportunity 2016

Dif­fer­ent forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion can inter­act or over­lap depend­ing on people’s iden­ti­ty cat­e­gories. In par­tic­u­lar, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion can be fur­ther com­pound­ed depend­ing on pover­ty, immi­grant or refugee sta­tus, gen­der and/​or sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. The inter­sec­tion of these cat­e­gories posi­tions chil­dren of col­or dif­fer­ent­ly with­in our soci­ety, result­ing in some fac­ing more struc­tur­al bar­ri­ers to suc­cess than others.

The term inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty” rec­og­nizes this con­nec­tion between iden­ti­ty, struc­tures, pow­er, dis­crim­i­na­tion and out­comes. A recent Foun­da­tion report on LGBTQ youth in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem ana­lyzed dis­ag­gre­gat­ed juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem data by race, gen­der iden­ti­ty, gen­der expres­sion and sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. The dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data revealed that youth of col­or are over­rep­re­sent­ed among LGBTQ youth in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem and that LGBTQ youth are over­rep­re­sent­ed with­in the over­all jus­tice sys­tem. This over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion was high­er for girls who iden­ti­fied as LGBTQ than boys who iden­ti­fied as LGBTQ. An inter­sec­tion­al analy­sis of this data uncov­ered the extent to which LGBTQ youth in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem expe­ri­enced dif­fer­ent forms of dom­i­na­tion based on how they were social­ly posi­tioned with­in the system.

The report also iden­ti­fied struc­tur­al and insti­tu­tion­al prac­tices that con­tributed to the over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of LGBTQ youth in juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems. LGBTQ youth, par­tic­u­lar­ly youth of col­or, report­ed that they expe­ri­enced pro­fil­ing, indis­crim­i­nate stops and search­es, phys­i­cal, ver­bal and sex­u­al harass­ment, and arrests for qual­i­ty of life” offens­es (e.g. being charged with sex offens­es for con­sen­su­al sex­u­al activ­i­ty).’ By apply­ing an inter­sec­tion­al per­spec­tive to their data, researchers uncov­ered these struc­tur­al and insti­tu­tion­al prac­tices that sub­ject­ed youth to dif­fer­ent dis­crim­i­na­to­ry expe­ri­ences based on their iden­ti­ties. This struc­tur­al per­spec­tive is inte­gral to inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty because it removes the respon­si­bil­i­ty of dis­crim­i­na­tion away from minori­tized peo­ple and places it on struc­tures and pub­lic pol­i­cy. As a result, inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty inves­ti­gates how struc­tures and pub­lic pol­i­cy mar­gin­al­ize or exac­er­bate pre-exist­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties to cre­ate fur­ther dis­em­pow­er­ment among dif­fer­ent peo­ple and communities.

While inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty unveiled dis­parate out­comes and over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of LGBTQ youth in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, it can also be used as a pow­er­ful plat­form for advo­ca­cy. Some exam­ples include LGBTQ, immi­grant youth incor­po­rat­ing inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty into mobi­liza­tion efforts aimed at pass­ing the DREAM act in Cal­i­for­nia; non-Eng­lish speak­ing, Asian immi­grant women using their inter­sec­tion­al iden­ti­ties to fight for fair labor and wage laws in the San Fran­cis­co Bay area; and black stu­dents shar­ing their inter­sec­tion­al expe­ri­ences to speak out against racial mar­gin­al­iza­tion at Har­vard University.

These exam­ples pre­dom­i­nant­ly show how inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty uncov­ers dis­crim­i­na­tion, but inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty does not only stop there. As our report on LGBTQ youth in juve­nile sys­tems explains, all chil­dren and youth express race, gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty in dif­fer­ent ways. Dur­ing ado­les­cence, their iden­ti­ties are flu­id, requir­ing an envi­ron­ment that pri­or­i­tizes their health and well-being and allows them to explore their emerg­ing sense of self. Through inter­sec­tion­al per­spec­tives we can equip our­selves to rec­og­nize, hon­or and encour­age those dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties while cre­at­ing equi­table struc­tures and insti­tu­tions. By using inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty to cre­ate equi­table oppor­tu­ni­ties, we can help all chil­dren and youth grow with­in safe and inclu­sive spaces.

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