Art: Adam Niklewicz, Childhood Interrupted (1993).

Adopting Equality

We must protect LGBTQ families

By Emily McGranachan, Julie Kruse, and Schylar Baber

Though it may feel at risk, marriage equality is currently protected throughout the United States. Now that marriage is no longer a viable target for anti-LGBTQ movements, it doesn’t mean they’ve given up their attacks on LGBTQ people and our families. Far from it. Since 2015 they have focused their attention, Eye-of-Sauron-style, on foster care and adoption. With our partnerships legally recognized, opponents of LGBTQ rights are widely adopting the strategy of going after youth in care and LGBTQ people who want to foster or adopt.

Across the country, with increasing frequency, states are passing license-to-discriminate laws that allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to make decisions for children in their care based on the agency’s religious beliefs rather than on the best interests of the child. That means these agencies can refuse to consider well-qualified prospective families for child-placement simply because they do not pass the agency’s religious litmus test. These laws also harm at-risk children in care—both those in need of a temporary placement and those awaiting placement with a loving, forever family—who are denied the broadest possible pool of qualified foster and adoptive parents. These laws further harm LGBTQ children and youth in care who are denied affirming, supportive care and families. Agencies can refuse to acknowledge the youth’s gender identity and sexual orientation, and to intentionally place them with families and institutions that will not respect them either. The data clearly show that LGBTQ youth constitute at least 20 percent of foster youth, which is about double their presence in the overall population.

Our families, and especially our youth, are under attack. As of 2016, four states (North Dakota, Virginia, Michigan, and Mississippi) had passed license-to-discriminate laws permitting adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ youth in care, as well as LGBTQ and other potential parents. That number has now more than doubled. In 2017, three more states passed these laws (Alabama [though only applying to agencies that do not receive government funding], South Dakota, and Texas). In 2018, another three followed (Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina). In 2018, the only anti-LGBTQ state bills that passed anywhere in the country were specifically targeting foster care and adoption. Opponents of LGBTQ rights, LGBTQ youth, and the validity of LGBTQ-headed families are narrowing in on an imperfect system that deals with people at their most vulnerable: youth in care and adults opening themselves up to become foster or adoptive parents.

There are many intersections of how these harmful bills only further hurt the youth over-represented in the child welfare system. Children who are LGBTQ, children of color, tribal children, and disabled children are all in care at higher rates. And these children often don’t have the same permanency outcomes, which means they don’t get adopted or have a long-term foster care connection. Instead, they often age out of the system without a forever family, or the associated support and guidance, and they’re expected to succeed on their own.

Supporters of LGBTQ families march with the Family Equality Council in the 2018 Boston Pride Parade.

Think about it: family matters even after we turn eighteen. Where do you go when your college shuts down for Christmas break? Who do you call when you have a medical crisis? Or when you can’t figure out how to pick the right car insurance? A family, however you define it, is a lifelong connection.

And yet, even with approximately 20,000 youth aging out of the foster care system each year with no forever family, opponents of LGBTQ rights are discriminating to the detriment of these kids. They do that, despite knowing that an estimated two million LGBTQ people would consider serving as foster or adoptive parents. According to the Williams Institute, same-sex couples are seven times more likely to foster and adopt than different-sex couples.

By prioritizing the religious beliefs of the foster care or adoption agency over the best interest of the child or youth (the complete opposite of what the child welfare system is obligated to do), these agencies can discriminate against LGBTQ youth, as well as the adults who wish to provide them a safe and loving home. The child welfare system’s guiding principal is to work in the best interest of each child. Foster placements that abuse LGBTQ youth are not in their best interest. Group homes that do not respect a youth’s identity or allow abuse toward them are not in their best interest. And refusing to place children in the care of vetted, trained, and loving adults just because they do not pass an agency’s religious litmus test, is not in the best interest of children. There are nearly 400,000 children in foster care in the US. A quarter are waiting to be adopted. Another 23,000 youth age out of the system without permanent families. Denying them potential temporary or forever homes with LGBTQ adults is not in the best interest of children.

Across the country, with increasing frequency, states are passing license-to-discriminate laws that allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to make decisions based on the agency’s religious beliefs rather than on the best interest of the child.

When agencies are allowed to base placement decisions on their religious beliefs rather than the best interest of the child, they can, for example, decide that a bisexual teen or a gender nonconforming child should be placed in an institutional setting rather than an affirming placement or they can intentionally place them with a family that believes in conversation therapy (a medically discredited practice that is very harmful to try to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a child). Only 16 states and DC ban conversion therapy; the rest have no laws against it. In New England, only Maine has not banned conversion therapy.
Children should not have to hide who they are. If states are going to be accepting responsibility for these youth and taking them into their custody, they shouldn’t have to hide any parts of their identity for fear of any type of retaliation, specifically from those that are tasked with protecting them. It’s important that they express those identities without fear.

Protecting LGBTQ youth in care and preventing discrimination against these youth and prospective parents are LGBTQ rights issues.

That’s why the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDF) is so important. ECDF is a federal bill that will counteract these state bills. States that allow discrimination by adoption and foster care agencies will have their federal funding, the main funding source for state child welfare services, restricted. ECDF puts the best interest of children back at the forefront by increasing access to safe and supportive homes and promoting culturally competent care for foster youth who identify as LGBTQ.

Although New England is free of any license-to-discriminate bills, our voices and stories can still make a difference. The Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign needs your stories, your support, and your voices. By joining the campaign at www.familyequality.org/everychild, you’ll have the opportunity to receive action alerts, share your family, foster care, adoption or ally story with elected officials. Foster alumni can sign up to become involved in the Campaign’s Foster Alumni Action Network. The ECDF Campaign shares real stories with your elected officials and works with individuals and families to help them meet with officials. The more that elected officials and people around the country hear our stories and understand the harm these bills are doing to children, the faster the ECDF bill will pass and state bills will change.

Art: Adam Niklewicz, Childhood Interrupted (1993).
Photo Insert: Supporters of LGBTQ families march with the Family Equality Council in the 2018 Boston Pride Parade. Credit: Boston Pride.
Emily McGranachan

Emily McGranachan

Emily McGranachan is Director of Family Engagement for Family Equality, the national nonprofit that advances the legal and lived equality for LGBTQ+ families and those who wish to form them. In this role, Emily plans Family Week in Provincetown, the largest annual gathering of LGBTQ+ families in the world. This is particularly special because Emily attended Family Week as a teen with her moms. She also runs Family Equality’s Family Speak Out program and hosts and produces their bi-weekly podcast, Outspoken Voices. Emily earned her BA at Mount Holyoke College in International Relations and Spanish and MA in Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs from American University in Washington, DC. Outside of work Emily likes to run, read, listen to podcasts and spend time with loved ones.

Schylar Baber

Schylar Baber

Schylar Baber is Family Equality Council’s Federal Policy Consultant. He was recently Executive Director of Voice for Adoption and served on the governor-appointed Protect Montana Kids commission. He was an American Express NGEN Fellow, nationally awarded child welfare advocate, and respected foster alumni and survivor of conversion therapy. Schylar holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Montana. He spent 11 years in foster care before aging out without a family. When he was 25, his mentor and sixth-grade teacher adopted him.

Julie Kruse

Julie Kruse

Julie Kruse is Family Equality Council’s Director of Federal Policy. She has over fifteen years of experience advocating for the LGBTQ community, immigrants, working families, and women and girls. Julie’s efforts have contributed to victories including relief from deportation for tens of thousands of LGBTQ immigrant families, ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and stopping discriminatory tax audits of low-income families. Julie holds a master’s in education from Northwestern University and graduated summa cum laude with Distinction in Honors Biology from the University of Illinois. She is a proud stepparent and grandparent.