This week, the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote on SB 375, which would allow service providers the right to decline services to a child on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Children’s Rights strongly opposes this measure, which would effectively provide a license to discriminate against LGBTQI youth in foster care in Georgia.
In last year’s Safe Havens report, Children’s Rights, Lambda Legal, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy documented the urgent need in all 50 states for more comprehensive protections for LGBQ and in particular Transgender, Gender-Expansive, and Non-Conforming (TGNC) youth. Only 27 states and D.C. explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination protections specific to the child welfare system. The report found Georgia among the 10 states with no express protection against discrimination on account of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex (or gender) in child welfare specific statute, regulation or policy.
The proposed SB 375 would only take Georgia another step backward in the need for expanded legal protections for LGBTQI youth in out-of-home care. Christina Remlin, Children’s Rights Lead Attorney and a co-author of the Safe Havens report, delivered testimony opposing SB 375:
“Atlanta is the epicenter of the LGBTQ South and has many couples that would provide loving forever homes to children in need. I know from years of experience working on the Kenny A. case that our foster care system suffers from a lack of homes. Indeed, we currently have youth sleeping in hotels across the state due to a lack of placements. Children are even sometimes forced to sleep in offices overnight. We simply cannot afford to alienate any appropriate foster or adoptive family resources.
“The unacceptable reality is that SB 375 could have devastating and long-lasting effects on the lives of countless LGBTQI youth. Children who have already faced trauma, rejection and maltreatment from their families or caregivers will find themselves in a foster care system that already has a shortage of homes. While there are faith-based providers who are doing incredible work, with more and more addressing this shortage by serving all children and families, others may use SB 375 to turn away loving foster or adoptive parents because of their identities and to discriminate against LGBTQI youth. This would be both unfair and bad for kids. SB 375 would be a dangerous step backward and create a real risk of subjecting these children to further bias and discrimination in the very system that is supposed to protect and care for them.”
Read Christina Remlin’s full testimony here.
This proposed bill comes on the heels of House Bill 159, a rewrite of Georgia’s adoption laws that initially attempted to include anti-LGBTQ religious exemption language. After Governor Nathan Deal threatened to veto the bill last year, the anti-LGBTQ language was removed and passed in the State Senate in January.
Children’s Rights is on watch for all legislative proposals that would—like Georgia’s SB 375—create risk for LGBQ and in particular TGNC youth in out-of-home care nationwide.