Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people are over-represented in foster care, where they are more likely to experience discrimination, abuse, neglect and the risk of harm. A 2019 study found 30.4 percent of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ and 5 percent as transgender, compared to 11.2 percent and 1.17 percent of youth not in foster care.
LGBTQ youth are more likely to suffer from consistent harassment and abuse in foster care, juvenile justice settings and homeless shelters. At times, they’re subjected to dangerous efforts that falsely claim to change their orientation or gender identity, including so-called “conversion therapy.” These incidents are particularly pervasive with transgender youth, whose very identities are rejected in state care, and who, when bullied and abused, are often criminalized for acting in their own self-defense.
Without safe foster care placements, and without the vital support of caseworkers and other child welfare professionals, LGBTQ youth often flee abuse in foster care only to face homelessness and sexual exploitation.
The Williams Institute also found that around 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. In New York, birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, studies show some 78 percent of LGBTQ youth were removed or ran away from foster homes because of the hostilities they faced, and 56 percent chose to live on the street–rather than in a foster care placement–because they felt safer there. The U.S. National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that LGBTQ homeless youth are roughly 7.4 times more likely to suffer acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth.
LGBTQ young adults are also overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. While LGBTQ youth comprise only an estimated 5-7 percent of the overall youth population in the United States, they represent 13-15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system. Findings show that, when compared with their heterosexual and cisgender peers, LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system are twice as likely to have experienced child abuse, group and foster care placement, and homelessness.
Children’s Rights partnered with Lambda Legal and the Center for the Study of Social Policy to release Safe Havens: Closing the Gap Between Recommended Practice and Reality for Transgender and Gender-Expansive Youth in Out-of-Home Care. The report offers the first comprehensive analysis of the troubling lack of explicit laws and policies in most states to protect transgender, gender expansive and gender non-conforming (TGNC) youth in the child welfare, juvenile justice, and runaway and homeless youth systems (“out-of-home care systems”). View interactive maps of which states do and do not offer provisions protecting LGBTQ youth from discrimination in child welfare and juvenile justice systems across the country.
WHAT CR IS DOING
- In February 2020, Children’s Rights responded to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case involving Philadelphia’s ban on contracting with taxpayer-funded foster care providers that discriminate against LGBTQ or other prospective parents.
- Lead Counsel Christina Wilson Remlin was quoted in The Chronicle of Social Change: “I think that what they are seeking … is to establish a constitutional right to discriminate.” In 2018, Children’s Rights spearheaded an amicus brief with more than 30 nonprofit children’s organizations in support of Philadelphia’s strict non-discrimination policies in foster care placements.
- In January 2020, Children’s Rights opposed the passage of a Tennessee bill that will allow taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to turn away same-sex couples and other prospective parents based on their religious beliefs
- In December 2019, Children’s Rights submitted a public letter opposing the HHS rule change, calling the rule a nationwide “license to discriminate” and citing the harmful effects of the rule on children.
- Tell HHS: No License to Discriminate! Our action toolkit raised awareness and allowed our supporters to easily submit public comments opposing the rule change.
- In November 2019, Children’s Rights publicly opposed the release of a new rule by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to roll back Obama-era nondiscrimination policies in foster care and adoption agencies.
- Lead Counsel Christina Wilson Remlin was quoted in NBC News: “This rule is a full force attack by the United States federal government enshrining discrimination into law.”
- Executive Director Sandy Santana was quoted in Newsweek, The Chronicle of Social Change and MetroWeekly: “At a time when we are already experiencing a severe shortage of foster homes across the country, our policies should encourage placing children with safe and loving families – period.”
- In May 2019, Children’s Rights established the Interfaith Coalition for Children’s Rights, a group of faith leaders working on behalf of children in foster care nationwide to combat proposed discriminatory legislation.
- In April 2019, Children’s Rights spoke out against Tennessee’s SB 1304/HB 0836, proposed legislation that would have allowed discrimination in foster care and adoption based on the religious beliefs of provider agencies. Ahead of a vote in the Senate, Children’s Rights launched a petition to gather signatures opposing the legislation. On April 30, the Tennessee Senate postponed a vote on the legislation; Christina Wilson Remlin issued this statement.
- In April 2019, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the City of Philadelphia, affirming that foster care agencies receiving public funding cannot discriminate against prospective LGBTQ foster parents or others on the basis of religious belief. Children’s Rights and a coalition of child welfare advocates submitted an amicus brief in support of Philadelphia’s strict non-discrimination policy in foster care placements.
- Christina Wilson Remlin was quoted in MetroWeekly celebrating this ruling: “By refusing to allow public funding of foster care agencies that discriminate based on sexual orientation, the City of Philadelphia has sent a message that children deserve loving families that are safe, diverse, and welcoming.”
- Pointing out the importance of accurate data for LGBTQ youth in foster care, Christina Wilson Remlin was quoted in NBC News opposing HHS’s proposal to eliminate this data collection: “To stop collecting data on LGBTQ foster youth would only serve to render this vulnerable population invisible.”
- In March 2019, Children’s Rights immediately spoke out against Georgia’s proposed SB 221, a religious freedom bill that would have allowed a license to discriminate against a wide range of individuals. Learn more here.
- Children’s Rights lead counsel Christina Wilson Remlin issued a press statement that was quoted in The Georgia Voice and The Chronicle of Social Change, noting that under SB 221, “Taxpayer-funded foster care agencies would be able to turn away qualified same-sex couples and deny our most defenseless children the chance of a better life in a safe and loving home.”
- In January 2019, Children’s Rights condemned the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to grant a waiver allowing South Carolina foster care providers to discriminate against non-Protestant prospective foster parents.
- Children’s Rights lead counsel Christina Wilson Remlin was quoted in the Associated Press: “Let’s call this decision what it is: state-sanctioned and government-funded discrimination.” Her statement appeared in several outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, MetroWeekly, and others.
- In October 2018, Children’s Rights led a coalition of 20 leading nonprofit children’s organizations and advocates urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reject the aforementioned waiver request submitted by the governor of South Carolina. In our letter, we explain that the waiver would permit federally-funded discrimination based on religious belief in violation of the First Amendment. Read more here.
- Children’s Rights has also initiated a petition to raise awareness and send signatures urging the Department of Health & Human Services to reject South Carolina’s waiver request.
- In October 2018, Children’s Rights and a coalition of advocates filed an amicus brief in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia asking a federal court of appeals to uphold a district court ruling that foster care agencies receiving public funding cannot discriminate against prospective LGBTQ foster parents or others on the basis of religious belief. Children’s Rights and our partners support Philadelphia’s strict non-discrimination policy in foster care placements. Learn more about this brief here.
- Children’s Rights recently joined Project POCKET, a coalition of non-profit and advocacy organizations committed to ensuring that Georgia’s children are not subjected to harmful conversion therapy practices. Project POCKET is advocating for the passage of legislation that prohibits licensed mental health professionals in Georgia from providing conversion therapy services to minors.
- In August 2018, Children’s Rights joined advocacy organizations The Health Initiative, Georgia Equality, and others to release Fostering Family, a Guide to Working Well with LGBTQ Youth in Georgia’s Child Welfare System. The guide shines a light on the unique needs of LGBTQ youth and makes specific recommendations for how the system can best serve them. While the guide focuses on Georgia, the recommendations have nationwide application given that LGBTQ youth are dramatically overrepresented in child welfare, foster care, juvenile justice, and other state systems.
- In July 2018, Children’s Rights publicly opposed the anti-LGBTQ Aderholt Amendment. Lead Counsel Christina Wilson Remlin and Lambda Legal’s Currey Cook co-authored an op-ed in The Advocate opposing the amendment. Read: All LGBTQ Children in Foster Care Are Under Attack.
- In May 2018, Children’s Rights spoke out when South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Kansas considered adopting anti-LGBTQ religious freedom bills.
- In February 2018, Lead Counsel Christina Wilson Remlin delivered testimony strongly opposing Georgia’s proposed bill SB 375. Efforts to pass this proposed bill eventually failed as the legislative session ended.
- Christina Wilson Remlin further spoke out against SB 375 and similar anti-LGBTQ legislation by publishing an op-ed in The Advocate. Read: Discriminating in the Name of God is Still Discrimination.
- In April 2017, Children’s Rights, Lambda Legal and the Center for the Study of Social Policy released Safe Havens: Closing the Gap Between Recommended Practice and Reality for Transgender and Gender-Expansive Youth in Out-of-Home Care. The report offers the first comprehensive analysis of the troubling lack of explicit laws and policies in most states to protect transgender, gender expansive and gender non-conforming (TGNC) youth in the child welfare, juvenile justice, and runaway and homeless youth systems (“out-of-home care systems”). It also profiles and provides recommendations from six TGNC youth who experienced affirmation in out-of-home care systems and four providers – a family acceptance program, a shelter for homeless youth, a detention facility and a foster care agency – who affirm TGNC youth in their programs.
- Children’s Rights and Lambda Legal presented the report at the CWLA 2017 National Conference. In addition, Children’s Rights has raised awareness by contributing an op-ed in LGBT Weekly, speaking at conferences including the 12th Annual Emory Public Interest Conference and the 39th National Child Welfare, Juvenile and Family Law Conference, and participating in panel discussions with key stakeholders in the LGBTQ community. Children’s Rights has received a grant to continue and expand upon their advocacy work with the report, which will include examining how target states can use the findings from the report to implement reform in their out-of-home systems to improve protections for TGNC youth.