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Trump proposal would harm LGBTQ children

Social services must support those most at risk

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Samuel Garza Bernstein (Photo courtesy of Bernstein)

Acknowledging and celebrating our own identity is everything.

But decades ago, if someone talked about identifying and tracking queer foster kids, it would undoubtedly have been to punish or convert them.

Not anymore. Social services now seek to identify LGBTQ+ foster kids so they can better serve their specific needs. But recently the Trump administration proposed dropping the federal mandate to ask questions regarding LGBTQ+ orientation, undermining the legal and moral responsibility of social services to protect such children in their care.

The irony is that now getting less information is what serves the anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. And I can speak to this from personal experience.

I volunteer as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for foster kids in LA County. CASA kids typically have specialized needs—educational, social, psychological, physical, or anything else that requires someone who can focus on bridging the many services that can be utilized for a child, with an aim to making sure that child is getting everything they need.

We are assigned individually, usually with only one child at a time. In my five years as a volunteer, two of the kids I have worked with are trans. I’ll call them Kenny and Sophia.

Kenny suffered from years of emotional abuse from parents who refused to accept his gender, insisting that he wear frilly dresses and only participate in stereotypically female activities. Drug use and self-harm landed him in foster care. He is not quick to trust. He does not readily share his feelings. But he identified as transgender early in the process.

Because DCFS (the Department of Children and Family Services) knew his gender identity, it led to Kenny being assigned to me, a CASA who identifies as gay and who has been further identified as someone with a lot of experience with LGBTQ+ youth, and specifically, trans youth.

Kenny’s name is now correct at school. Faculty and administration are required to address him correctly. He is beginning to explore medical therapy to support his gender identity. Soon his name and gender will legally reflect his truth. He now lives with a family headed by a married couple who identifies as lesbian, one of whom has a family member who identifies as trans.

Two years ago, he was suicidal. He can see a future now. That might not have happened had questions gone unasked about his gender identity. He might never have been seen or counted.
When I started working with Sophia it was a week after a video surfaced at her high school of a group of boys holding her down, throwing her wig in a trash can, and peeing on her. In this case, information about her gender identity had been previously unknown to DCFS and to her school. Sophia didn’t publicly identify as transgender until then.

But because DCFS and CASA keep track of information about LGBTQ+ identity, she was then able to get specialized help, medically, psychologically, and scholastically. CASA and her dependency court judge (who identifies as gay) made case law by defending Sophia’s right to safeguard her ability to have children before beginning hormone therapy. (Hormone therapy affects reproductive organs. Sperm and eggs must be frozen and stored before treatment if the client intends to ever have biological children.)

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. Another study performed by the Williams Institute found that around 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and 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.

Protecting these youth from such consequences starts with properly identifying them within the system and offering the appropriate services. Identifying LGBTQ+ youth, caregivers, and volunteers is not only central to being able to serve the needs of LGBTQ+ foster youth, it can saves lives.

I suspect Trump’s proposed change will not affect the State of California’s or LA County’s commitment to identifying and serving LGBTQ+ youth in foster care. We are lucky to live in a state that values our civil liberties.

But tens of thousands of the most vulnerable of an already vulnerable foster youth population across the country will disappear, their identities unacknowledged and unknown. I’ve used some variation of the word “identity” twenty-two times in this piece.

That isn’t an accident. Identity is everything. I guess that makes it twenty-three.

 

Sam Garza Bernstein is a volunteer with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Los Angeles.

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A second Trump term would be disastrous for LGBTQ+ people

This is not a partisan political fight. It’s an American imperative. LGBTQ and our allies must not be complacent in 2022

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Former President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

By Sarah Kate Ellis | NEW YORK – The morning after the 2016 presidential election, GLAAD’s leadership team gathered in my office to assess the results of the night before and begin to process the reality that Donald J. Trump would be America’s next president.

Though emotions were running high, we quickly agreed that the LGBTQ community would be in grave danger for the next four years, and that GLAAD must pivot its priorities and its resources to react and respond to the new administration.

Trump had spent the better part of his campaign having it both ways. He professed to be a friend of our community to the point of literally wrapping himself in the Pride flag at an event, while surrounding himself with some of the most virulent anti-LGBTQ activists and politicians of our era — led by the incoming Vice President Mike Pence. The message was clear — LGBTQ people and our hard won progress would be in the Trump administration crosshairs at every level and in every way possible.

Our charge was not an easy one. The cable news cycle was well into its around-the-clock, obsessive, and incessant 24-hour coverage of Trump and his followers, so we couldn’t depend on them to research, dig up and bring to light the nefarious actions that were inevitable. On top of that, we would need to ensure that the LGBTQ community was on high alert and that we were ready to fight back with every weapon in our movement’s arsenal.

So on that morning of Nov. 9, 2016, GLAAD’s Trump Accountability Project was conceived and launched. For the next four years, we tracked more than 200 attacks in policy and rhetoric coming from the Trump administration.

Some of the most egregious include the complete removal of all LGBTQ references from the White House web site on the day of his inauguration; the shameful ban of qualified transgender Americans from military service; the support for businesses to legally discriminate sanctioned by the Justice Department and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court; removal of LGBTQ identifiers from the 2020 U.S. Census; the stripping of protections for transgender people in schools and in healthcare; and a slew of extreme judicial nominees to the federal bench whose anti-LGBTQ views will have a decades-long impact. The list is extensive, and it is sobering now, even in retrospect.

I invite you to fast forward five years and juxtapose that record against that of President Joe Biden as he crosses the one-year mark of his presidency. Just as we did with Donald Trump, it was important for GLAAD to track the actions of President Biden in order to hold him and his administration accountable for delivering on the campaign promises he made to the LGBTQ community.

The results are undeniable and unparalleled by any president in the history of this country. In his first 365 days in office, GLAAD’s Biden Accountability Tracker has just documented its 100th item in a quickly growing list of appointments, policies, and statements that advance equality.

These include:

  • Nominating the first out lesbians to the federal bench — Alison Nathan, Beth Robinson and Charlotte Sweeney — among a record 40 first-year judicial confirmations.
  • Nominating the first out Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; first out transgender person confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Health and first female four-star admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Dr. Rachel Levine.
  • Issuing the first U.S. passport with a gender-neutral ‘X’ marker, an option offered to all routine passport applicants in early 2022.
  • Reinstating of transgender military personnel, as well as expanding coverage for transgender vets’ healthcare.
  • Reversing rollbacks and expanding protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in healthcare, adoption services, and employment.

In a single year, with so many competing priorities, President Biden and his administration have opened doors for LGBTQ Americans and demonstrated unprecedented commitment to ending discrimination and pushing toward full equality in every area of society. Indeed, it’s a 180 degree turnaround from the previous administration’s attacks on LGBTQ Americans.

There’s a good deal of speculation that Donald Trump may once again run for president, and one thing could not be clearer — a second Trump Administration would be disastrous for LGBTQ people. We cannot afford to go backward. Democracy is on the line. Our equality is on the line. And it’s not hyperbole to say — our lives are on the line.

This is not a partisan political fight. It’s an American imperative. LGBTQ and our allies must not be complacent in 2022. Our work to ensure pro-equality leaders are elected to office — and remain in office — begins now. We cannot skip the midterm elections. We cannot stop paying attention and holding our elected leaders and candidates accountable.

We learned in 2016 and for four years afterward that the train of progress can be reversed, and there are anti-LGBTQ extremists working day and night to do it again. The power is in our hands to not let that happen again.

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Sarah Kate Ellis is the president and CEO of GLAAD.

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Commentary

News Flash: LGBTQ teens don’t use litter boxes at school

Michigan Republican Party leader pushes outrage for political gain in ridiculous anti-LGBTQ+ claim against a school system

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Photos of LGBTQ teens and litter box licensed from Adobe Stock.

By James Finn | BAY CITY, Mi. – “Let me be clear in this communication,” wrote Michigan school superintendent Michael Sharrow. “There is no truth whatsoever to this false statement/accusation! There have never been litter boxes within MPS schools.”

Sharrow, who runs Midland Public Schools near Bay City, Michigan, told reporters he felt embarrassed and astonished he had to email parents, some of whom were outraged about false reports that LGBTQ students who “identify as cats” were being provided litter boxes to relieve themselves on school premises.

When I saw this story in MLive the other day, I laughed, but when I dug down, I lost my sense of humor pretty darn quick, especially when I realized the co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party is validating this crass falsehood.

The false reports began when Lisa Hansen showed up, “furious,” at a January 18 school board meeting saying some students were using a litter box in at least one of the unisex restrooms made available for transgender kids: “I am really disturbed by that! I know it’s going on nationwide. I know it is. It’s part of the agenda that’s being pushed. I don’t even want to understand it.”

You can listen to her ravings at the 32:49 mark of this video:

Go to 32:49 to hear Lisa Hansen say she “knows” schools nationwide are providing litter boxes for cat-identifying students

Going by Hansen’s comments, she’s conflating stories about “furries,” people who roleplay being animals, with LGBTQ identities. While it’s true LGBTQ teens are somewhat more likely than cis/straight teens to be involved in “furry” subculture on the Internet, “furry” is not an identity, it’s a game.

People identifying as cats and demanding rights is not a thing anywhere outside the fevered imaginations of folks who can’t wrap their minds around the fact that trans people and experiences have been part of the common human experience for millenia. Conservatives often object to transgender equality by claiming people might eventually identify as animals and demand to be treated as animals.

When we LGBTQ people hear that, our jaws drop.

Newsbreak: The world is not ending because trans people are finally winning a little dignity and equity. To misquote Bill Murray’s laugh line in Ghostbusters, dogs and cats are not about to start living together in sin. That ought to be the end of this discussion. I shouldn’t be writing about this at all, but the Republican Party blew it up on purpose to enrage parents.

Why is the Michigan Republican Party amplifying Hansen’s falsehood?

Somehow, Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock heard Hansen’s wild accusation, and without contacting Superintendent Sharrow or doing any investigation, posted it on January 20 to her Facebook page as a fact:

Kids who identify as ‘furries’ get a litter box in the school bathroom. Parent heroes will TAKE BACK our schools.

A few people on Facebook laughed at her for being gullible, but she quickly disabled comments. Her post received wide distribution, and some conservative parents are even more outraged over LGBTQ equity in public schools than they were before.

What did Maddock do after Sharrow sent out the (obvious) news that no MPS schools offer litter boxes to kids?Apologize? Retract? Take the false post down? Nope, it’s still up, still getting distribution, still pissing off “hero parents” responding to her call to arms.

That has to be what she wants.

She’s a powerful, educated, sophisticated woman with a long history as a state Republican official. She knows her post is enraging people; she doesn’t care that it’s false, only that it furthers her agenda: demonizing LGBTQ people for political gain.

Parents all over Michigan, like in most of the rest of the country, have been storming school boards demanding the banning of books that address race, LGBTQ people, or other marginalized communities. Just this morning, The Guardian revealed that the trend is accelerating, that is centrally funded by deep pocket donors, and that the Republican Party sees anti-LGBTQ sentiment as a principal political haymaker this year.

US conservatives linked to rich donors wage campaign to ban books from schools

Conservative groups across the US, often linked to deep-pocketed rightwing donors, are carrying out a campaign to ban…www.theguardian.com

LGBTQ books are disappearing from schools and libraries

For now, conservative forces that want to erase LGBTQ people in public schools are winning. Parents are circulating lists of books they say are objectionable or “pornographic,” and those books are vanishing. School boards are ordering them removed from shelves “for evaluation,” and promising parents to consult them before putting them back.

Sadie Seroxcat has just published a comprehensive summary of the situation in Counter Artswhere she lists specific books being banned and discusses successful efforts in Texas to remove them from schools.

Most objectionable to me and other LGBTQ advocates is that books being branded as pornographic or inappropriate are nothing of the sort. Conservative parents seem to find any mention of gay or trans truths unacceptable, no matter how tasteful, positive, or uplifting.

One book topping the list of bans is Lawn Boy, which I bought and read after parents all over the country condemned it as “pornography” that promotes pedophilia. I found nothing of the sort. Jonathan Evison’s novel isn’t even, properly speaking, gay themed.

I wrote this about Lawn Boy in a review for The Book Cafe:

This novel is neither liberal nor conservative, neither Red State friendly nor Blue State friendly. Whatever you might think about race and class, good ole Mike Muñoz probably shatters a few stereotypes. Capitalism might not come off looking beautiful in this novel about a young man on the fringes, but that ending … if it’s not a celebration of the “by-your-bootstraps individualism” Ronald Reagan praised, nothing is.

So what’s the controversy?

Somebody. In. The. Book. Is. Gay.

School Boards Want to Burn This Sweet, Uplifting NovelCharges of “pedophilia” and immorality are bizarremedium.com

Parents all over the country are storming school boards, furious over a sweet, positive, uplifting book they obviously didn’t bother to read. The charges of “pornography” are as silly and sensationalized as kids using litter boxes in school restrooms. But people just keep on pushing the outrage.

Why?

Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock could tell you. Pushing outrage engages voters. Demonizing scapegoats energizes the base. The midterms are coming up, and truth gets in the way of Party strategy, especially when you’re the Party of Trump still pushing the Big Lie about a stolen election.

LGBTQ people are among the scapegoats du jure this election season, so queer teens who deserve respect, representation, and a little common human decency are watching senior political leaders push lies about them instead.

No wonder the crisis-prevention folks at Trevor Project say their help lines are swamped this year and demand is rising.

No, LGBTQ teens don’t use litterboxes, and schools aren’t being asked to provide them. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Enough demonizing for political gain.

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

********************

The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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United Methodists use anti-LGBTQ+ law to stop Jewish couple adopting

Here we go again with taxpayer-funded bigotry- Denying state services because of religious affiliation is unquestionably unconstitutional

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Courtesy of Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram

By James Finn | DETROIT – A Christian adoption agency that’s part of a progressive denomination just used a Tennessee law to stop a Jewish couple from adopting a child, who now languishes in state care. The same agency had already used the law for its intended purpose — to refuse to work with prospective LGBTQ parents. The agency is partnering with one of most notorious anti-LGBTQ hate groups in the United States. How did a progressive Christian denomination end up in bed with extremist Evangelicals associated with the Trump movement? Depending on your perspective, that’s either a cautionary tale or a horror story.

Two years ago, responding to demands from Christian constituents, the Tennessee General Assembly passed House Bill 836, which “prohibits, to the extent allowed by federal law, a private licensed child-placing agency from being required to perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions.”

Lawmakers made clear during debate that the “convictions” they meant were Christian “convictions” that LGBTQ people are unfit to foster or adopt children.

Denying state services because of religious affiliation is unquestionably unconstitutional, a direct infringement on the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

This year, Holston United Methodist Home for Children used that law to turn away Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram because they are Jewish. And now, a boy who should be part of a loving forever family is stuck in the “system.”

Anti-LGBTQ+ foster agency discriminates against married Jewish coupleLast month, some parents and other community members railed against creating a GSA at a Lakeland School Board meeting…www.losangelesblade.com

The couple were unable to adopt because Holston United Methodist was the only agency where they lived that could provide mandatory state-certification services. The couple just sued the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services in state court, alleging they are being denied services by a taxpayer-funded agency solely because of their religious affiliation. Click here for the full text of the legal brief.

Anti-semitism and anti-LGBTQ bigotry walk hand in hand

I don’t know what part of this story makes me more angry, that Tennessee passed a law designed to make it hard for LGBTQ people to foster or adopt, or that an agency affiliated with the mainline United Methodist Conference (UMC) stirred in anti-semitism to hurt a child.

Jaw-droppingly, this story is not about Evangelical Christians, but about a denomination widely viewed as on the cutting edge of progressive Christianity.

Apparently, the Christians at Holston United Methodist Home never got the progressive memo. The agency’s status within the UMC is unclear. A spokesperson for the Holston UMC Conference told knox news the home is “no longer an arm” of the Conference, but did not respond to questions asking if the home and affiliated church are members of the Conference. Neither the Holston Conference, the UMC, nor the adoption agency responded to my inquiries yesterday asking if the agency remains affiliated. Going by the agency’s web page, the answer is yes:

“Holston Home is proudly affiliated with the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, an area that covers all of East Tennessee, the western-most 17 counties in Virginia, and a little bit of territory in North Georgia. In that area, more than 873 United Methodist Churches make up the Holston Conference.”

Holston Home United Methodist Home for ChildrenHolston United Methodist Home for Children provides hope and healing for a brighter future by sharing the love of Jesus…www.holstonhome.org

Holston UMC Home is partnering with a hate group

Last December, the Holston United Methodist Home sued the Biden administration over HHS rules that do not allow them (as the recipient of federal funds) to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

In both legal cases, Holston UMC Home is being represented by lawyers with Alliance Defending Freedom, certified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. ADF is notorious for championing extremist Christian hate, on the record claiming a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. Among other things, the Alliance pushes:

  • False notions that LGBTQ people are more likely to sexually abuse children.
  • The recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad.
  • State-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad.
  • “Religious liberty” legislation and case law to allow denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people in the U.S.

This isn’t the ADF’s first rodeo with anti-semitism

I’ve written before about the Miracle Hill adoption agency in South Carolina that fought successfully in 2019 for a federal waiver to allow them to turn away Jews, Catholics, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists. When Lydia Currie sued, saying she was turned away for being Jewish, ADF jumped into the thick of the fight, championing Miracle Hill’s right to discriminate against Jewish people.

Trump Trashes Adoption Equality Rule excludes LGBTQ parents as National Adoption Month begins medium.com

Lydia told reporters at the time that, “Boys with a history in the system are hard to place in families because of the assumption that they might be violent… We decided that we wanted to give one of them a home.”

Because of where she lived and the fact that Miracle Hill had a near lock on child-placement services, Lydia was unable to care for the hard-to-place boy she had already identified. She eventually fostered but was unable to help the child who needed her.

Elizabeth and Gabriel face exactly the same problem. They want to adopt a boy from Florida who desperately needs a home, a boy they identified and stepped forward to help, but they can’t, because Holston UMC Home won’t certify Jews, and the couple have no other local options for training and certification.

Let’s be clear about the true freedom interests in this case

The Alliance Defending Freedom say they are vigorously defending religious liberty, but is that true? Holston UMC Home bid for and won a state contract to train and certify foster and adoptive parents as an agent of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

This is the standard model for child placement in the United States, which in many ways is an historical accident. Before about the mid-twentieth century, most homeless children were cared for by private religious agencies funded mostly by church donations. Uneven levels of service that often led to neglect and abuse sparked reform, roughly coincident with President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative.

Today, private agencies contract with the state to spend taxpayer dollars to provide the bulk of services to children in need. Many of the agencies remain religiously affiliated, but all of them are primarily or exclusively funded by the state, supervised by the state, and required to meet minimum state standards of care. They are, for all practical purposes, agents of the state.

Many of them, like Miracle Hill and Holston UMC Home, hold monopolies or near monopolies in the areas they serve.

So when they insist they must have the “religious liberty” to turn away prospective parents who don’t share their religious views, they are acting as agents of the state discriminating against people on sectarian religious grounds. This ought to be a no brainer. Denying state services because of religious affiliation is unquestionably unconstitutional, a direct infringement on the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The people having their freedom snatched away are Lydia, Elizabeth, and Gabriel. The people having their freedom snatched away are LGBTQ people, many of them practicing Christian. The people having their freedom snatched away are children denied loving parents.

Holston United Methodist Home has no liberty interest at stake, contrary to the ADF’s tortured arguments. Holston United Methodist Home is not a person with religious beliefs. It’s a legal entity that bid for and won a state contract to spend taxpayer dollars to perform state services.

If the people who run the agency believe LGBTQ people and Jews are unfit to be parents, they are perfectly free to step aside in favor of people who do not hold those views. They are perfectly free to not bid for state contracts in the first place, especially if their religious views preclude them from fulfilling their duties as agents of the state.

Some adoption agencies in the U.S. have closed for that reason, and in every case, neutral players have stepped forward to bid for and execute state contracts, to care for needy children without religious bias.

What’s happening in Tennessee violates American values and Christian values

Denying services to people because of their religious beliefs is antithetical to American values. We as a people have a sad and sometimes brutal history of racism and anti-semitism, a history with deep Christian roots. As a gay man, I’m far too personally aware of our history of oppressing LGBTQ people. But these sad facts stand in opposition to our ideals of liberty and individual freedom, ideals we most fight to advance.

As for Christianity, I’m certain I don’t need to quote any words of Jesus for Christians to understand that denying families and homes to children in need stands in direct opposition to the message of the gospel. Two children in this story lost the chance to join a loving family because Christians denied it to them. Two children ended up stuck in “the system” because Christians denied them love.

I have no idea how any member of the progressive United Methodist Conference can look a the name of the Holston United Methodist Home for Children and not feel great sadness and shame. Would Jesus deny a loving Jewish home to a child in need?

Of course not. But United Methodists are doing it right now, in his name.

If I were a United Methodist or a citizen of Tennessee, I’d be blasting out messages to my religious and political leaders. Since I’m neither, who can help me do that work?

**********************

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

********************

The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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