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, the 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 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.
A Visible Issue Renders Marginalized Communities Invisible
Children’s Rights Paralegal Intern Brayden Bell developed a report: A Visible Issue Renders Marginalized Communities Invisible.
The report examines the importance for child placement agencies to use inclusive language and imagery to recruit and support racial minority and LGBTQ+ families, comparing the Los Angeles County and Tennessee child welfare systems.
The High Stakes in the Fulton Case: Undermining the Vital Role of Child Welfare Laws & Regulations in Protecting America’s Children
Children’s Rights partnered with the Movement Advancement Project, Family Equality, National Center on Adoption and Permanency, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and Voice for Adoption to release The High Stakes in the Fulton Case: Undermining the Vital Role of Child Welfare Laws & Regulations in Protecting America’s Children.
Learn how potential outcomes of the case could have an impact on the child welfare system, as well as on other social service systems that receive government funding.
Fostering Inequity: How COVID-19 Amplifies Dangers for LGBTQ+ Youth in Care
Children’s Rights developed a report, Fostering Inequity: How COVID-19 Amplifies Dangers for LGBTQ+ Youth in Care, exposing how the discrimination, institutionalization, and abuse that LGBTQ+ youth already face is exacerbated by COVID-19. The report lifts up the voices of youth through compelling testimony from several young people currently or formerly in foster care who identify as LGBTQ+.
Learn what steps child welfare agencies and federal and state governments can take to address issues caused directly by COVID-19 and, at the same time, rectify conditions that have long put LGBTQ+ youth at risk.
Safe Havens: Closing the Gap Between Recommended Practice and Reality for Transgender and Gender-Expansive Youth in Out-of-Home Care
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.
Demand Equality NOW, Call on Your Senators to Pass the Equality Act
While some states and child welfare agencies have explicit protections for LGBTQ+ foster youth and foster parents, there are still 29 states that lack non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.
It’s time to update our nation’s laws to make sure everyone is protected.
Add your name and join thousands across the country pushing the Senate to cosponsor and pass the federal Equality Act. The law would finally provide consistent and explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in every state. It would also add and expand legal protections for women, people of color, people of minority faiths, and many other communities.
By making sure every person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression are protected under federal law, Congress can ensure that youth and families are served with dignity and respect.
Fight Against Discrimination, Demand More Loving Homes for Children
Over 20,000 children age out of the foster care system every year without a permanent family or home, forcing youth into instability and homelessness. Many adults want to open their homes and hearts, but discrimination stands in the way.
By denying LGBTQ+ families the ability to foster and adopt children, child welfare agencies deny children the right to safe, happy, and healthy permanent homes.
Stand up for LGBTQ+ parents, families, and children and demand Congress end discrimination in taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care services.
All children have the right to be kept safe from harm and cared for by loving families. Call on your federal legislators to support laws and policies that promote justice and the human dignity of all people and to pass the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act.
WHAT CR IS DOING
- In June 2022, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Lambda Legal declared victory on behalf of Kelly Easter, a Tennessee woman who for more than two years had been denied the opportunity to foster refugee children solely because she is a lesbian. The organizations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with several HHS officials and programs, for sanctioning discrimination by taxpayer-funded organizations against LGBTQ+ foster parent applicants. The lawsuit was resolved when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told HHS it no longer has a religious objection to working with a single lesbian foster parent (although objections remain in place for same-sex married couples), prompting Easter to voluntarily dismiss her case.
- In response, Daniele Gerard, Senior Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights issued this statement: “This victory is a meaningful first step toward helping children find safe and loving homes, and toward denying federally-funded foster care agencies a license to discriminate. But as Americans United and Lambda have noted, this is only a partial win in the larger battle to end the practice of denying LGBTQ+ families the ability to foster and adopt children based on the religious beliefs of taxpayer-funded organizations. Children’s Rights respects and values the role that faith-based agencies play in providing services for children in foster care. Our concern is with government-sanctioned discrimination of any kind.”
- In February 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called for an investigation into medical treatments for transgender youth and told state health agencies to deem that gender-affirming care is child abuse. This is the latest effort by Gov. Abbott to criminalize medical care for transgender youth.
- In response, Samantha Bartosz, deputy litigation director at Children’s Rights, was quoted in The Imprint News and MetroWeekly: “The Governor’s executive order risks causing irreparable harm to trans youth and their families — all under the guise of punishing so-called ‘child abuse.’ If Governor Abbott and other Texas leaders really cared about children, they would focus their efforts on better serving the children in Texas’ badly broken child welfare system, not on cruelly targeting transgender children and their families for seeking affirming health care. As advocates for children, including LGBTQ+ youth, Children’s Rights stands with the ACLU and Lambda Legal and supports their work to protect children’s rights to appropriate and necessary medical care by blocking this discriminatory executive order.”
- In January 2022, Michigan settled a lawsuit brought by a local foster care agency, announcing that the state will contract with agencies that refuse to work with same-sex couples seeking to foster or adopt a child.
- In response, Daniele Gerard, Senior Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights issued this statement and was quoted in the Imprint News: “The settlement sends a message to LGBTQ adults and children in Michigan that their rights are not protected and their identities are not valued at a time when a shortage of safe and loving foster homes is creating a crisis across the US.” She further stated that the “decision to permit taxpayer-funded discrimination” came on the heels of a report that “confirmed the state is falling short on its commitment to children in foster care.”
- In January 2022, a Tennessee foster care provider turned away a Jewish couple who wanted to adopt a 3-year old boy based on a law that allows taxpayer-funded adoption agencies not to place children in arrangements that violate the agencies’ “religious or moral convictions or policies.”
- Daniele Gerard, Senior Staff Attorney, was quoted on the state law in a TODAY Show article: “On any given day in the United States, there are about 400,000 kids in foster care and about 117,000 of them waiting to be adopted … What (this law) does is this reduces the safe, loving, stable families.”
- In November 2021, the Biden administration revoked Trump-era waivers that allowed taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to override non-discrimination rules when they conflicted with providers’ religious beliefs.
- In June 2021, the US Supreme Court ruled that Philadelphia may not bar a Catholic agency that refused to work with same-sex couples from screening potential foster parents.
- Christina Wilson Remlin, Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights, was quoted in USA Today: “The Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling is based on narrow grounds limited to the facts of this case,” she said. But it “drives home why we need to pass federal legislation to provide consistent anti-discrimination protections for all LGBTQ+ people.”
- Christina Wilson Remlin, Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights, interviewed with John Kelly for the Imprint Weekly Podcast and was quoted in the Imprint News: Children’s Rights is “disappointed that the ruling allows CSS to use taxpayer funds to discriminate against LGBTQ+ couples and sends a message to LGBTQ+ children that their rights are not protected and their identities are not valued.”
- In March 2021, Children’s Rights praised Bethany Christian Services, the country’s largest evangelical adoption and foster care agency, for their decision to begin placing children with LGBTQ couples.
- Christina Wilson Remlin, Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights, was quoted in the MetroWeekly: “Their decision to welcome the ‘the many types of families who exist in our world today,’ means they will no longer reject potential foster and adoptive parents based on those parents’ religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. This brings their nationwide work in line with the position that the only valid test for parents should be love and safety.” Read the full quote here.
- In February 2021, Children’s Rights spoke out in support of the Administration’s agreement to halt a discriminatory HHS rule change that would have allowed taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and other non-merit characteristics. This historic decision, agreed to by both sides, followed a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal and others on behalf of a foster youth and alumni group and LGBTQ service and advocacy organizations. The court order postpones the effective date of the rule until August 2021.
- In response, Christina Wilson-Remlin, lead counsel at Children’s Rights, released this statement.
- In February 2021, Children’s Rights spoke out against Alabama SB 10, proposed legislation that, if passed, would ban widely-accepted gender-affirming medical care for Alabama’s transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) youth, and make the provision of this medical care a Class C felony.
- In response, Christina Wilson Remlin issued this statement.
- In January 2021, the Administration finalized a rule change rolling back critical non-discrimination protections, putting vulnerable members of our communities—including LGBTQ+ families and youth in foster care—at risk.
- Christina Wilson Remlin, Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights, was quoted in the Imprint News: “It is unconscionable that in its closing days, this administration is finalizing a rule change that would roll back non-discrimination provisions for programs funded with taxpayer dollars through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including child welfare agencies.” The change gives states “a license to discriminate against LGBTQ families and cause profound harm to the most vulnerable children among us.”
- In August 2020, the House Ways and Means Committee majority staff released a new report that finds the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to deliberately have failed its mandate to act in the best interest of vulnerable young people in the foster care system. The report comes just months before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.
- Christina Wilson Remlin, Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights, was quoted in the Metro Weekly: “The lower courts correctly held that the City of Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination regulation applies to all taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to ensure that the pool of foster parents and resource caregivers is as diverse and broad as the foster children they serve. I urge the Supreme Court to put children first and uphold Philadelphia’s non-discrimination policy. The only litmus test for these caregivers should be love and safety.”
- In August 2020, Children’s Rights filed an amicus brief in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Philadelphia’s non-discrimination policy. The friend of the court brief argued on behalf of the nation’s children who will be profoundly and irreparably harmed if the Court rules that Catholic Social Services and other taxpayer-funded foster care agencies have a constitutional right to refuse prospective families based solely on religious beliefs. Children’s Rights, with 32 advocacy organizations and members of our Interfaith Coalition, spearheaded the brief with Greenberg Traurig LLP serving as pro bono counsel.
- In June 2020, Children’s Rights authored a report Fostering Inequity: How COVID-19 Amplifies Dangers for LGBTQ+ Youth in Care. The report describes how the unique risks LGBTQ+ youth already face in child welfare systems are magnified by the pandemic and proposes practical steps child welfare agencies and government can take to mitigate them.
- Lead Counsel Christina Wilson Remlin was quoted in The Hill: “It’s important to have a very urgent reminder that our child welfare systems need to become safer places for LGBTQ young people. This population is already exposed to a great deal of danger.”
- In June 2020, Children’s Rights opposed a final federal ruling that removed non-discrimination protections from the Affordable Care Act, wiping transgender health protections.
- Lead Counsel Christina Wilson Remlin was quoted in the New York Daily News calling the development “yet another move by the Trump administration to deny LGBTQ people their constitutionally guaranteed rights.”
- In May 2020, Children’s Rights opposed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rule change ending data collection regarding the sexual orientation of foster children and foster and adoptive parents in the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).
- Christina Wilson Remlin, lead counsel at Children’s Rights, was quoted in The Chronicle for Social Change, Gay City News and Metro Weekly: “Stripping sexual orientation data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System is a huge mistake that will harm the children we serve,” Remlin said, adding that “thorough and accurate data are critical” to children’s well-being. ”This latest onslaught against facts puts politics over the best interests of children and makes LGBTQ youth and their outcomes invisible.” Remlin recently spoke with the administration urging them to withdraw the proposed rule change.
- In March 2020, Children’s Rights spoke out in support of a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to block its recent move to eliminate non-discrimination provisions protecting LGBTQ people and others. Filed on behalf of Family Equality, True Colors United, and SAGE by Democracy Forward and Lambda Legal, the suit asks the court to reverse the administration’s decision to subsidize discrimination with taxpayer dollars.
- Lead Counsel Christina Wilson Remlin was quoted in Modern Healthcare: “This is part of the broader administration agenda of creating an authorization to discriminate based on religious or other deeply held beliefs,” she said. “It opens an avenue for providers to force vulnerable young people to adopt their religious beliefs, even if that runs counter to the well-being of these young people.”
- 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 non-discrimination 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 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.
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