A transgender teenager who identifies as a girl said she was subject to constant abuse and discrimination during 18 months in the custody of Philadelphia's Department of Human Services.
At the Youth Study Center, the 16-year-old teen was placed in the boys' unit, where, she said, staff and residents harassed her despite a judge's order that she be addressed by her preferred female name and female pronouns.
Last week, a national civil-rights group filed a complaint on her behalf with the Pensylvania Commission on Human Relations alleging unlawful discrimination. The commission can enforce state antidiscrimination laws.
The complaint contends she was physically attacked by other residents and orally abused by staff every day for almost a year and a half.
The teen, now 17, is in foster care but is no longer in custody. The Youth Study Center, which was on the Parkway, has been torn down.
"We are seeking the commission to investigate the charges and take appropriate measures to end discrimination and harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth," said Flor Bermudez, a lawyer with Lambda Legal in New York City.
The complaint also asks DHS to adopt "explicit written policies" for staffers on how to meet the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths in the city's juvenile justice system.
While DHS has not yet reviewed the complaint, the agency has "made great strides over the last couple of years in handling issues" regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, said Alicia Taylor, DHS communications director.
DHS now has a nondiscrimination policy, in May held a town-hall meeting, and posted on its Web site resources for families and youths, she said.
The teen, identified in the complaint as L.P., was born male but has wanted to be a girl since age 9. She has been in DHS custody since she was 11.
In November 2007, the teen was admitted to the Youth Study Center.
During a psychological evaluation in January 2008, she told a social worker that she wanted a vagina and wanted to be "castrated as soon as possible."
The social worker diagnosed gender identity disorder, a condition marked by the persistent discomfort of a person's own sexual anatomy and a strong identification with the opposite sex.
The next month, Common Pleas Court Judge Abram Frank Reynolds ordered that the teen be addressed with her female name and that female pronouns be used when referring to her. He also authorized DHS to administer hormone therapy to the teen to delay puberty.
The complaint contends that staff at the Youth Study Center ignored the order and heaped abuse on her.
One staffer allegedly told her that as long as she had male genitalia, "I'm not going to call you by [her female name]." When she asked for a bra and panties, another staffer hurled an insult and refused to accommodate her.
The complaint states that she filed several formal reports but that administrators failed to discipline the staff.
Residents taunted and insulted the teen, calling her "gay" and "a wannabe girl." When she asked the staff to protect her, the ridicule only escalated to include physical abuse by other residents, the complaint states.
Though she repeatedly asked to be placed with girls, she was kept in the boys' unit, where residents threatened her, it states.
Staff allowed her to spend one night on the girls' unit. That was the only night in the custody of the Youth Study Center that she slept without fear of being harassed and abused, the complaint states.
As a result of the alleged harassment, the teen became depressed and suffered "significant emotional distress," the complaint states.
It contends she was subject to unlawful gender identity discrimination, sex discrimination, and disability discrimination.
By Sam Wood
Inquirer Staff Writer