A Supreme Court Case Poses a Threat to L.G.B.T.Q. Foster KidsRoundup
tags: civil rights, family history, Supreme Court, LGBTQ history, Foster Care
Dr. Vider is an assistant professor of history and director of the Public History Initiative at Cornell University, and the author of the forthcoming The Queerness of Home: Gender, Sexuality, and the Politics of Domesticity After World War II. Dr. Byers is an assistant professor of social work at Bryn Mawr College’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, and a postdoctoral associate at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on a case that could upend, in the name of religious freedom, 50 years of progress in the effort to provide better support for L.G.B.T.Q. children in the foster system. Such a decision would be a devastating setback for all children in foster care and set a dangerous precedent that could have broad repercussions.
The question the court has been asked to decide is whether the city of Philadelphia can bar Catholic Social Services from screening future foster parents. The agency claims a religious right under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause to exclude lesbian and gay couples as foster parents.
If the court’s conservative majority rules in favor of Catholic Social Services, the most obvious losers would be prospective lesbian and gay foster parents. Yet those with the biggest stake are L.G.B.T.Q. children and adolescents. A ruling for the agency would not only threaten hard-won advances to recognize and support L.G.B.T.Q. youth, but would embolden foster care agencies across the country to acquiesce in and perpetuate discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. people.
On any given day, there are over 400,000 children and adolescents in foster care in the United States. Trauma is built into the system. Children are typically removed from their families of origin because of reports of abuse or neglect, or because a guardian has died or been incarcerated. While there is no recent federal data on L.G.B.T.Q. young people in the foster care system, various studies, including one published in 2019 in the journal Pediatrics, show that L.G.B.T.Q. young people are overrepresented, with rates ranging from 24 to 34 percent.
For these L.G.B.T.Q. youth, the trauma is often different. Many are pushed out of their family homes because of homophobia and transphobia; once in foster care, they are often more vulnerable to harassment and abuse. L.G.B.T.Q.-affirming foster parents offer the best chance of providing a supportive home for those children and adolescents if they can’t remain with their families. This case directly threatens them.
When the case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, was argued before the Supreme Court in November, lawyers for Catholic Social Services maintained that the city should grant it an exemption from Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination law and simply allow it to refer lesbian and gay couples to another agency. Wouldn’t that, in Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s words, be a “win-win”? The agency’s lawyers also emphasized that the organization had served the community for more than a century. Why should it be stopped now from handling foster care?
But those arguments ignored an important fact: Since the early 1970s, state and local agencies have shown an increasing investment in protecting and supporting L.G.B.T.Q. children in the foster system.
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