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As the first quarter of the fiscal year ends, it is a good time to reflect on the Commission’s progress on implementing its strategic vision. This fiscal year, which began in July, is the first in which the Commission has had such a vision, and it has oriented us towards three priority areas in our recommendations and work: criminal justice, sexual health, and out-of-home youth. These are all areas in which LGBTQ youth, and in particular queer youth of color, experience dramatic disparities when compared to their peers.
The Commission addresses these priority areas through all three arms of its work, which are loosely organized into committees on government relations, community relations, and its Safe Schools program. Regarding criminal justice, our Commission members who are focused on government relations have been closely monitoring criminal justice reform efforts that are currently unfolding in the House and Senate. These Commission members have met with the heads of agencies tasked with juvenile and criminal justice issues and have discussed potential legislation with offices at the State House. Additionally, they have been strong advocates for organizations to receive adequate funding, and were very vocal when Governor Baker reduced much-needed funding to organizations helping LGBTQ youth.
Meanwhile, our Commission members focused on community relations have begun organizing an event to lift up the voices of both experts and concerned members of the public with respect to criminal justice issues in their community. Our Safe Schools team is gathering momentum as well, and uses a racial justice lens in the work it does in schools across the Commonwealth. They are helping to develop a space for issues like the school-to-prison pipeline to be discussed with an intersectional perspective.
We also tackle these topics through our work on coalitions, where we join with governmental and nongovernmental groups in supporting policies that advance equity. As part of our work on sexual health, we participate in meetings of the PATCH Alliance, which has worked with Senator Spilka and Representative Hogan to introduce a bill improving healthcare confidentiality. The Commission believes that confidentiality is key in helping LGBTQ (and all) youth access sexual health services like contraception, HIV testing and treatment, PrEP, and more.
Regarding out-of-home youth, in addition to working with many outstanding community organizations and coalitions, we also take part in the Advisory Committee for the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness, which met last week to discuss the Commonwealth’s plans for addressing housing instability on a systemic level. To address juvenile justice issues in partnership with others working on this topic in our community, we have joined the Coalition for Juvenile Justice Reform, which is currently seeing movement at the State House on many of its policy priorities.
These are just a few of the ways the Commission is working to advance our mission of making Massachusetts a place in which all youth can thrive. Our strategic plan – and its focus on criminal justice, sexual health, and out-of-home youth – is a new way that we are trying to center our efforts on high-priority areas for youth who are most at risk. We look forward to seeing where the rest of the 2018 fiscal year takes us.