Biden and Washington: LGBTQ youth at risk

(CNN) -- As lifelong public servants, we've both committed our lives to the notion that no matter who you are, where you're from or who you love -- every individual deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Period.

Over the past decade, the United States has made tremendous progress toward equality for all -- including new laws like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Action and landmark Supreme Court decisions including Obergfell v. Hodges and U.S. v. Windsor to affirm the equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.

But history shows us that legal equality does not automatically translate into lived equality in our communities. Today, too many members of the LGBTQ community continue to face discrimination, harassment, rejection and physical violence every day at school, at work, in their neighborhoods and even in their homes.

This crisis is especially severe among youth. LGBTQ youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and they represent up to 40% of the homeless youth population even though they make up only about 7% of the overall youth population in the US.

In addition, LGBTQ individuals and families experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, food insecurity and violence. According to the FBI, LGBTQ individuals have surpassed other groups as the most likely to be targeted for hate crimes.

Our shared belief is that communities -- and our nation -- cannot reach their full potential when a segment of the population is marginalized, and these harrowing statistics demonstrate we're not yet where we want to be.

Collectively, we can do something about it. Research has shown -- and we've witnessed through the work of our organizations -- that communities thrive when everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential, contribute their talents and connect with their neighbors to work for the greater good.

In addition to helping protect our LGBTQ youth, we believe that placing greater emphasis on equality and inclusion is vital to developing strong economies, a vibrant democracy and safe and welcoming communities for all.

That's why the Biden Foundation and YMCA of the USA are launching a new initiative to foster LGBTQ inclusion and equality. Working together, we will begin to change our culture to one of greater inclusion, empathy and understanding by enhancing the ability of YMCAs to serve LGBTQ youth and adults and fostering greater understanding in communities across the country.

Here's how it will work: a cohort of Ys -- diverse in geographic location, size and membership -- will develop and implement locally focused strategies designed to engage and support LGBTQ individuals and their families. These strategies may include staff training; member outreach and engagement; program innovation for LGBTQ youth, adults, seniors and families; and community collaborations. Over time, the best practices and tools developed by the cohort will be disseminated to Ys nationwide.

This kind of work -- work to ensure everyone has a fair shot at the American dream and to build stronger, more welcoming communities -- is what drives our organizations, and we call upon others to join.

Every American deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, but too many in the LGBTQ community are denied this basic human right today. This is unacceptable in a country founded on the belief that we all are created equal.

Equality and opportunity for all is the way to a brighter future, and at the Biden Foundation and the Y, this is the future we are working to create.

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The Gayly. May 21, 2018. 10:02 a.m. CST.