A tearful moment interrupted a congressional panel discussion on LGBT adoption Thursday when a gay foster parent described how state officials in Florida were threatening to take away his two children.
Martin Gill of Miami and his partner are seeking to adopt two young brothers — referred to John and James Doe in court papers — for whom they’ve cared for six years. Because a 1977 Florida statute prohibits gays from adopting, Gill has filed a lawsuit against the state in attempt to overturn the law and adopt the two children.
After showing slides of his children decorating a Christmas tree and dressed as Batman for Halloween, Gill recalled how during an intermediary court hearing the state attorney “made it all too clear” that he couldn’t remain the caregiver should the lawsuit fail.
“They answered that if the court allows the ban to stand, the state would immediately get a court order to remove these kids from our home, and they would be made available for adoption,” Gill said.
Holding back tears, Gill said the judge pressed further on whether some other kind of permanent guardianship could be available, but the response from the counsel was, “No, I don’t think it is.”
“To that, there was an audible gasp in the court room,” he said. “I felt my own heart drop.”
The intermediary court considering the case could make its decision public at any time. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed the lawsuit, is expecting the case to continue to the Florida Supreme Court.
Knowing that at age 4 the older child had to care for the younger one because they had no parents, Gill said his biggest fear is that the state would send the two children to separate homes.
“The lives of these two young boys would be completely devastated,” he said. “What is ironic under the current law is that how in the state of Florida, they would fulfill the goal of permanency for these two young children by splitting them up.”
To address the situation and others like it, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) has introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. The bill would restrict federal funds for states — including Florida — if they have laws or practices that discriminate in adoption on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
During the panel discussion intended to highlight the bill, Stark said discrimination shouldn’t take place in states that have statutes prohibiting LGBT people from adopting or where discrimination takes place without guidance from the law.
“Standards in adoption and foster care should only reflect the child’s best interest, nothing else,” Stark said. “Too many children need a loving home and we just should not close any doors.”
On March 8, Stark reintroduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act after having previously introduced the bill last year. The new legislation makes technical changes and is intended to ensure that children won’t face discrimination on the basis of their own sexual orientation and gender identity as they’re placed into homes.
The original legislation has 14 co-sponsors that are expected to carry to the new legislation, H.R. 4806. Proponents are also working on a Senate companion bill that could be introduced before lawmakers break for recess this month.
Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, said passing the legislation would enable thousands of children in foster care to find families.
Chrisler said a half million children are living in foster care throughout the U.S. and 120,000 of them are available for adoption. But each year, she noted, around 25,000 children “age out” of the system without finding parents.
“And yet, while there is a shortage of qualified foster and adoptive parents for these children in need, some states categorically exclude thousands of prospective parents simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status,” she said.
Florida is the only state that has a statute explicitly prohibiting adoption by gays and lesbians. Other states, including Utah and Arkansas, have laws prohibiting unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children.
But Chrisler said the majority of states have no laws to speak to whether LGBT people can adopt, which can leaves children in foster care “vulnerable to the individual biases of agencies, case workers and judges.”
As the Every Child Deserves a Family Act builds support, litigation to rectify the situations in certain states is proceeding. Leslie Cooper, an ACLU senior staff attorney, said in addition to the Florida case, another ACLU lawsuit is pending in Arkansas to overturn the law preventing unmarried cohabitating couples from adopting.
But Cooper said lawsuits aren’t “the way to fully resolve this issue,” noting the cost of cases and the difficulty of litigation in states without specific statutes barring LGBT adoption.
“Litigation can be extremely effective and chip away at this problem, and hopefully in some states, resolve the issue,” she said. “But they aren’t the answer and can’t solve this problem in any stretch. A more global solution like this bill is what we need.”
Two panelists during the discussion presented research showing that the sexual orientation of parents has no impact on their children and many LGBT people would consider adoption if it were available to them.
Charlotte Patterson, a lesbian psychology professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in LGBT families, said 36 percent of lesbians are mothers, 16 percent of gay man are fathers and 40 to 50 percent of gays and lesbians say they would consider becoming parents.
“Children really do well in lesbian and gay parented homes as compared to demographically similar homes parented by heterosexual adults,” she said.
Patterson said growing up in LGBT households has no influence on children’s relationships with their parents, siblings and peers, nor does it affect their gender development, such as whether they want to play with traditionally male or female toys.
“The consensus here is extraordinarily clear,” she said. “Kids are well adjusted. There’s really no need to justify any kind of discrimination.”
Following the discussion, Patterson told DC Agenda studies often touted by social conservatives claiming that biological parents are better than same-sex couples at raising children are misleading.
“In general, what they’re referring to is research about kids growing up with single heterosexual parents and kids growing up with heterosexual couples,” she said. “In those studies, there are usually no openly gay or lesbian people, but the results of the studies are often used to make inferences about what kids in gay and lesbian parented families would do. That’s a mistake, of course.”
Gary Gates, a research fellow at the Williams Institute, a think-tank on sexual orientation at the University of California, Los Angeles, had similar data on the number of gays and lesbians with children and those wanting to adopt.
A common misconception, Gates said, is that it’s mostly LGBT people who are white that want to raise children, as opposed to LGBT people who belong to racial minority groups.
“All the data that we know about parenting by LGBT people and same-sex couples shows that, in fact, child-rearing is much more common in people of color,” he said. “So particularly African-Americans and Latinos and Latinas, they’re twice as likely as their white counterparts to say that they’ve raised a child.”
Regarding the full population, Gates said about one million LGBT people in the United States are raising around two million children.
The numbers are different when looking just at same-sex couples. Based on U.S. census data, Gates said about 112,000 same-sex couples throughout the United States are raising around 250,000 children.
But Gates also said the data show more same-sex couples raise children in states other than where LGBT people tend to live — often West or East Coast states with more gay friendly laws.
“What that also tells you is that same-sex couples are raising kids in states that have some of the most restrictive and challenging legal environments for gay and lesbian people raising children,” Gates said. “Many of the states with relatively high fractions of same-sex couples raising kids are very both politically and socially conservative.”
Also speaking at the panel was Nakea Paige, an 18-year-old high school student in D.C. who grew up in the foster care system. Although she’s bound this fall for Michigan State University to study biochemical engineering, Paige said her childhood was difficult because she never found a permanent home.
“I’ve been in one group home and three foster homes within three years, and having lived in three different places in three years has been a very scary experience,” she said.
Paige said one foster mother wouldn’t allow her to stay because she wasn’t receiving the full amount of compensation she thought she would receive. The foster mother had given a 30-day notice to leave, but Paige said she didn’t know about the notice until it was time for her to go.
Following the panel discussion, Paige told DC Agenda she wouldn’t have minded living with LGBT parents.
“It wouldn’t have bothered me, basically because it’s a family,” she said. “As long as I have somebody there to love me as a child, and them as a parent, then I’m fine with it.”
Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill
HB 25 now heads to state Senate
Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.
Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.
However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.
HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.
“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.
“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.
“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.
During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.
He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”
He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.
Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”
González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.
Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.
He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”
“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.
“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.
The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”
We’ll continue to educate lawmakers — replacing misinformation with real stories — and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.— Equality Texas (@EqualityTexas) October 15, 2021
LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained
Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported
AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.
Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.
In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”
“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,”
A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.
According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”
LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.
GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;
“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.
Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.
Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:
“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”
Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.
Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.
“But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.
More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:
“Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”
“FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.
Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.
“LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.”
The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.
Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”
- Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
- Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
- While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
- Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
- Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.
- The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
- The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered.
LGBTQ resources were removed from Texas’ child welfare agency website after Don Huffines criticized their existence there, emails show.— Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) October 13, 2021
Democratic state senators urged Gov. Greg Abbott and the agency commissioner to reinstate them on Tuesday. https://t.co/koCgoUUJG0
Colorado first state to require transgender care as essential health benefit
Biden officials sign off on change for state insurers
Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.
As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.
Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.
“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”
According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.
In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.
CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).
“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”
According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.
Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.
“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.
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