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 survey by the Williams Institute found 13.6 percent of youth in foster care identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and 5.6 percent as transgender, compared to 7.2 percent and 2.25 percent of the general youth population.

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.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In May 2018, Children’s Rights spoke out when South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Kansas considered adopting anti-LGBTQ religious freedom bills.
  • 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 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 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.