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Foster care youth speaks about challenges at Family Court pride event

June 15, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Kings County Family Court held its fifth annual Pride Month event in Downtown Brooklyn on Tuesday where it invited three speakers to address the judges and attorneys of the court including a 22-year-old living in foster care who detailed some of the shortcomings of the system.

“A lot of attorneys can advocate for youth, but you can’t advocate for me if you don’t know me,” said Jacquiem Millan, who attends the Borough of Manhattan Community College. “You can’t present a case to a judge and not know your case. I’ve been handed cards before and they say, ‘Call me when you need me,’ but how do I know when I need you? How do I know what your role is in my life?”

The event was sponsored by the Brooklyn Family Court as well as the LGBT Advisory Committee to the Administrative Judge of the New York City Family Court, the Appellate Division, Second Department, and the Child Welfare Court Improvement Project.

The event was worth 1.5 continuing legal education credit hours that counted toward the diversity, inclusion and elimination of bias requirement. It was titled, “Dignity For All: Overview of Protections Afforded to LGBTQ Youth in NYC Schools,” and included presenters Millian; Robert Hodgson, a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union; and Lillian Rivera, director of advocacy and capacity building at the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

“This is the fifth year that Brooklyn has done a pride event similar to this,” said Supervising Judge Hon. Amanda White. “Some years it has been a citywide event and some years it has been our own event. I’m really happy that the citywide judges back with us today.”

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Over 100 attorneys were in attendance at Tuesday’s event where they were given credits to fulfill their continuing legal education requirement for diversity and inclusion.

Hon. Karen Lupuloff and Hon. Clark V. Richardson, LGBT Advisory Committee chairs, also gave remarks at the event.

Before introducing the speakers, Hon. Jacqueline B. Deane addressed the audience with a personal dedication to David Buckel, the former Lambda Legal attorney who died in April. In 1996, Buckel helped to bring the very first lawsuit against a school district on behalf of a gay youth who was harassed in middle and high school.

The CLE was broken up into three parts. Hodgson gave an overview of the legal protections in place for LGBTQ youth in NYC schools. He covered terms and issues that frequently arise.

Rivera discussed the resources available to the court and attorneys through the Hetrick-Martin Institute. They also shared stories of students in the institute to help highlight the climate that these kids live in.

“One day after (an 18-year-old woman) said to me that she was engaged in survival sex and she told her mother,” Rivera said. “I said, ‘What did your mother say.’ She said, ‘Be careful.’ I asked her what she needed to take care of herself. She asked, ‘Will you tell me not to do it?’

“She asked me to tell her what her mother should tell her because not even her mother believed that there were other options for her,” Rivera continued. “That’s an unacceptable standard for our children. Unacceptable.”

Millan shared his stories about surviving through middle and high schools, the foster care system and dealing with the courts and lawyers.

“It took me six years to get out of high school,” Millan said. “One year I got bullied so bad that I dropped out. After a few weeks I realized that my education was too important, but why do I have to walk down the halls where people are constantly tripping me and harassing me just because of who I am?”

Millan said that part of the problem for LGBTQ youth, or what he simply referred to as “the community,” is that there are communication issues between them and the system. He explained that it can be particularly frustrating when dealing with attorneys who say they want to help, but then don’t go far enough to make a difference.

“There are a lot of resources, but we don’t know what they are,” Millan said. “We don’t have anybody to turn to because anybody we turn to goes up to another person and tells them our story, but it doesn’t get told the proper way. So we seem like problematic children looking for acceptance.

“A lot of children in the community — as rough as we seem — it’s a facade that we have to put up because we have to look as tough as we can so that we’re not attacked. But at the same time I’m a sweet person. You can come speak to me and say, ‘Hi.’”

ABOVE: Judges from the Kings County Family Court showed up in full support at the LGBTQ Pride Month program and CLE. They heard from an attorney, a director of an advocacy program at the Hetrick-martin Institute and a young person who shared their experience dealing with the system. Pictured is Hon. Jacqueline B. Deane addressing the crowd.

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