Central to the idea of foster care is looking out for the children in our community, defending those who cannot defend themselves, and providing a safe space for youth who have nowhere else to go. Sadly, when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ+) foster youth, our communities have not always provided safe environments for them to call home.
LGBTQ+ youth enter the foster care system for many of the same reasons as non-LGBTQ+ youth in care, except they experience the added layer of trauma of being rejected or mistreated because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. When they enter the foster care system, it is very difficult to find foster parents who are willing to take them in. As a result, LGBTQ+ youth frequently end up in facilities that are meant for teens struggling with substance abuse or severe mental/physical health challenges.
Due to the bias and discrimination they face, LGBTQ+ foster youth are a particularly vulnerable population. In California, there are laws in place to protect foster youth from discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, but there are still plenty of cases where discrimination occurs.
Foster care and adoption agencies are in desperate need of families who can provide a safe and loving home for LGBTQ+ youth. Not only are they one of the most vulnerable populations, but they are over-represented in foster care. In 2019, a study found that 30.4 percent of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ+. The number of youth who are not in foster care and identify as LGBTQ+ is significantly lower: 11.2 percent.
Becoming an approved resource parent is one of the most impactful ways to help LGBTQ+ youth in your community. If you can provide a loving, affirming environment for a youth who has been neglected, abused, or discriminated against, please don’t hesitate to start your journey as a resource parent. When you are approved through Koinonia Family Services, you will not be alone on your journey of parenting. Our staff is available to answer any questions and provide the support you need.
If fostering is not a good fit for you and your family, there are still plenty of other ways to help LGBTQ+ youth feel loved and accepted. Here are five simple ways to support LGBTQ+ youth:
1. Ask about their pronouns
We often make assumptions about the gender of individuals simply based on their appearance or name. Even if our assumption about gender is correct, it sends the potentially harmful message that people have to look a certain way or have a certain type of name in order to be considered a particular gender..
It is now becoming the social norm to state one’s pronouns when meeting new people and ask what their preferred pronouns are. Using someone’s preferred personal pronouns is a great way to show respect and cultivate an inclusive environment. When meeting someone new, you might say something like: “Hi, I’m Jordan, and I go by ‘they’ pronouns. How should I refer to you?”
For more information about pronouns, visit www.mypronouns.org.
Constantly misunderstood and discriminated against, LGBTQ+ youth struggle to feel seen and heard. Taking the time to listen to what these young people have to say is a great way to show your support. Whether it’s in a one-on-one conversation or an LGBTQ+ pride demonstration, perk your ears up to hear their perspective.
3. Set an example of authenticity
Depending on the social setting, LGBTQ+ youth don’t always feel safe/comfortable to be their authentic selves. The more authentic we are, the more it gives them the freedom to do the same. Show up as yourself, unapologetically; you might be surprised how many people you inspire and empower.
4. Cultivate a hate-free environment
We all have a unique energy that accompanies our homes, places of work, places of worship, etc. Something we can be intentional about in those spaces is cultivating a hate-free environment. This means, not tolerating bullying or discrimination, and meeting ignorance with education.
5. Educate yourself about LGBTQ+ history, issues, and resources
It’s difficult to support a group of people if you’re unaware of the challenges they’re facing. Take some time to learn about the issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. There are many resources available online (here’s one to get you started: www.aclu.org/issues/lgbtq-rights).
Jasmyne Newman, Contributor