Overcoming Discrimination in Foster Care

By Mark Casas

Mark FtF featured blogChildhood is supposed to be the most joyful time of your life, but my childhood was dark, full of pain, and traumatizing. Growing up, my mother suffered from a mental illness. My stepfather was physically and emotionally abusive. I used to watch him hit my mother and after he was done with her, he would turn to me. He would come and go whenever he wanted. Each time he left, we had to find a new place to live. My mom could not afford a stable place so we stayed in motels, shelters, and if we got lucky, on the floor of someone’s garage.

During this time, I was exploring my sexuality. I knew I was different and that others saw me that way too. I remember when I was accepted into the Gate Program, an educational program for students identified as gifted and talented. My stepfather would laugh and make fun of me for being in it. I can still hear him say, “Ha, he’s in a GAY program.” As a child, I took this to heart. I couldn’t even be proud of being academically involved and successful.

At 13, I ran away to escape the abuse. I stayed in an abandoned house. After missing a week of school, teachers became concerned. I was placed into foster care with my seven siblings. In junior high and high school, guys used to make fun of me and tease me. I remember someone spitting on me when he found out about my sexuality. Even though people would make fun of me, I never let it affect who I really was. I was the first openly gay guy to run for prom king and I won even amongst prom queen jokes. I never let my peers bring me down. I embraced who I was and didn’t take anything to heart. But even though I stood up for myself in school, I didn’t have the strength to do the same in my foster home.

After living in a temporary group home, I was placed in a foster home with my older sister. It was supposed to be a safe place that provided care and love for me. But my foster parents did not know how to be supportive or understanding. When they found out I was gay, they were angry. My foster dad said that I couldn’t be gay in his house. They did not speak to me. They grounded me for weeks, leaving me alone in my room on New Year’s Eve because of their ignorance and pride. One of the family members would throw the restroom trash all over my bed and constantly call me “Faggot.” No one was there to defend me. My foster dad constantly reminded me that I would die for being gay saying, “You will eventually catch AIDS and die.” He said I would not go far in life and no one would want to hire me because I was different.

Both my foster family and caseworker constantly intimidated me about going back to the group home or being separated from my sister. As my foster parents scared me into staying passive, my caseworker reminded them of the money they were getting to foster me.

The day after my high school graduation, I moved out of that home and into a transitional housing program — once again to escape abuse. This time, I was finally going to prove everyone wrong. I am currently a senior at Cal State Fullerton. I am majoring in psychology with a minor in art. I spend most of my time giving back to my community and advocating for other foster youth. After graduation, I plan on obtaining a master’s degree in global social work with emphasis in child welfare. My goal is to create a nonprofit that serves populations that are not given equal opportunities.

I have worked hard to be where I am today. I never let the ones who hurt me get the best of me. I know some people don’t change, but my foster parents actually did. They apologized for everything. I was able to prove to them that you’re born with your sexuality and there is nothing anyone can do to change it. By succeeding and moving on with my life, I was able to have an impact on my former foster parents and prove that we are all equal. It took a while for them to learn, but now they are accepting and loving, and have admitted to their faults in the past. I was their first exposure to a LGBTQ person.

My advice to those now in foster care is to be who you are and not let anyone force you to change. You have the power to inform others. Work hard, live your own life and do your best.

This first appeared on fosterclub.com as a part of the #FosterEquality campaign by FosterClub and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s All Children – All Families (ACAF) project.

Published on May 27, 2016 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.