Today the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center was awarded a landmark $13.3 million, five-year grant from the Federal Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Administration on Children, Youth and Families to create a model program that will provide life-saving support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in the foster care system. It is one of only six grants the department awarded for foster youth services and the first ever awarded specifically to support LGBTQ youth. It’s also the largest federal grant ever awarded to an LGBT organization.
The need for services for LGBT youth in foster care is dire, reps from the Center said. According to a 2001 (Feinstein) study, 78 percent of LGBTQ foster youth were forced to leave their foster placements due to hostility related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a 2001 study from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, 70 percent reported physical violence and 100 percent reported harassment in their group home. Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS), the only group home for LGBTQ foster youth in Los Angeles, closed its doors in 2008 (with its displaced residents turning to the Center for much-needed support).
“LGBTQ youth who aren’t living on the streets because of a hostile home environment are often in the foster care system,” said Lorri Jean, chief executive officer of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. “Many are rejected by foster parents and move from home to home or are considered unadoptable and live in overburdened group homes. In either case, they’re more likely to turn to turn to drugs and crime, engage in unprotected sex, or commit suicide—and when they age out of the system at 18, they’re coming to us homeless. This landmark grant will fund the development of a much-needed, model program to protect the health and well-being of LGBTQ foster youth — a program that will save lives, save taxpayer dollars and could be replicated in cities around the country.”
By developing and leading a 19 organization collaborative that will include foster care agencies, researchers and government departments, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center will create a comprehensive system of care to help LGBTQ youth stay in school, and in homes where they feel safe and welcomed, until adulthood. The collaborative will include: foster care agencies, researchers, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Los Angeles Unified School District and government agencies, including: Los Angeles County’s departments of Children and Family Services, Mental Health, Probation and Juvenile Court.
“The public systems across the country that are charged with the care and well-being of children and adolescents have largely been unresponsive or slow to acknowledge the needs of LGBTQ youth, and in some cases even hostile,” said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings, who led the team that developed the grant proposal.
“As a result, these systems deliver misguided, uninformed, and ultimately second-class care that harms LGBTQ youth in their custody. All too often they’re housed in isolation ‘for their own safety,’ blamed for being harassed because they’re open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, or disciplined for engaging in age-appropriate conduct that would not be punishable were it between youth of different sexes. It’s the system that’s harming them and we’ve got to change that.”
Key features of the program will include research, evaluation and documentation.
“We will be recording, studying, and analyzing the program carefully,” Cummings said. “We want to know what works for our youth and when we learn it, we will document the success so that our program can be duplicated around the country.”
The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center is a national leader in serving and advocating for LGBTQ youth. In addition to a 24-bed transitional living program, where homeless youth (ages 18 to 24) can live for up to 18 months while developing the skills and resources to live independently, the Center operates the Jeff Griffith Youth Center, which provides meals, emergency beds, clothing, counseling and support services to youth seven days a week. And to support the healthy development of LGBTQ youth, the Center’s LifeWorks program offers: mentoring by specially trained adults, peer-support programs, college scholarships, social activities and much more.
Some in Washington have pointed to the L.A. Center as an example of the needs a major gay facility can meet in a community. The D.C. Center’s David Mariner says support for the local center has been woefully inadequate.