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Adoption bill aims to protect LGBT parents, kids

A tearful moment interrupted a congressional panel discussion on LGBT adoption



Martin Gill (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

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 governor signs bill banning transgender youth healthcare

Senate Bill 14 to take effect on Sept. 1



Landon Richie, a 21-year-old political science major and a leading transgender activist, protesting at the Texas Capitol in May. (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

By Alex Nguyen and William Melhado | Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Friday a bill that bars transgender kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, though the new law could face legal challenges before it takes effect on Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 14’s passage brings to the finish line a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. Trans kids, their parents and LGBTQ advocacy groups fiercely oppose the law, and some have vowed to stop it from going into effect.

Texas — home to one of the largest trans communities in the U.S. — is now one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors.

“Cruelty has always been the point,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “It’s not shocking that this governor would sign SB14 right at the beginning of Pride [month]; however this will not stop trans people from continuing to exist with authenticity — as we always have.”

Authored by New Braunfels Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, the law bars trans kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments many medical groups support. Children already receiving these treatments will have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner. The law also bans transition-related surgeries for kids, though those are rarely performed on minors.

Those who support the law claim that health care providers have capitalized on a “social contagion” to misguide parents and push life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret their decisions. SB 14’s supporters have also disputed the science and research behind transition-related care.

But trans kids, their parents and major medical groups say these medical treatments are important to protecting the mental health of an already vulnerable population, which faces a higher risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. At the same time, doctors say cutting off these treatments — gradually or abruptly — could bring both physical discomfort and psychological distress to trans youth, some of whom have called it forced detransitioning.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center pledged on May 18 to fight SB 14 in court. They have yet to file a lawsuit.

“Transgender people have always been here and will always be here,” Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said Friday. “Our trans youth deserve a world where they can shine alongside their peers, and we will keep advocating for that world in and out of the courts.”

This legal threat is not new; some of these groups have sued several other states over their restrictions. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice also joined the legal fight against Tennessee’s ban.

While the lawsuits are tailored to each state, Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal and the director of its Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project, told the Texas Tribune last month that a major common challenge to the laws hinges on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the argument that these laws are stopping trans kids from accessing the same medical treatments that are still available to their cisgender peers.

Buchert added that the lawsuits’ immediate goal is generally to get a preliminary injunction to stop these laws from taking effect, a tactic that has seen some success.

“It’s one thing to see some of the things that state legislators do, but it’s a completely different thing when you’re under the white-hot spotlight of judicial scrutiny,” she said.

And prior to SB 14, the ACLU and Lambda Legal successfully sued Texas last year to halt state-ordered child abuse investigations of parents who provide their trans kids with access to transition-related care. Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton later appealed the decision in March, but the 3rd Court of Appeals has yet to issue a ruling on it.

“It’s a privilege to be able to fight,” Buchert said about the ongoing court challenges that Lambda Legal is involved in.

Editor’s note:

In a late Friday evening phone call, Landon Richie, with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Washington Blade:

“Today Governor Abbott signed cruelty into law. Legislation that purports to ‘protect youth’ while stripping them of the life-saving, life-giving care that they receive will cost lives, and that’s not an exaggeration. Trans kids deserve not only to exist, but to thrive as their authentic selves in every facet of their lives, and we will never stop fighting to to actualize a world where that is undisputed. Despite efforts by our state, trans people will always exist in Texas, as we always have, and we will continue to exist brilliantly and boldly, and with endless care for one another.”


The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Tenn. drag ban is unconstitutional

Law was to have taken effect April 1



(Bigstock photo)

U. S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker of the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee declared Tennessee’s anti-drag Adult Entertainment Act to be unconstitutional.

Parker’s ruling comes after a two-day trial last month. A Shelby County-based LGBTQ theatre company, Friends of George’s, had sued the state of Tennessee, claiming the law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Parker ordered a temporary injunction halting the just enacted Tennessee law that criminalizes some drag performances, hours before it was set to take effect April 1. In his 15 page ruling ordering the temporary injunction Parker wrote:

“If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution. […] The court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this statute, it missed the mark.”

Attorneys for the theatre company had argued that drag performances were an artform and protected speech under the first amendment.

In his 70 page ruling Friday, Parker wrote:

“After considering the briefs and evidence presented at trial, the court finds that — despite
Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of
children — the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on
the freedom of speech.”

“The court concludes that the AEA is both unconstitutionally vague and substantially
overbroad. The AEA’s ‘harmful to minors’ standard applies to minors of all ages, so it fails to
provide fair notice of what is prohibited, and it encourages discriminatory enforcement. The
AEA is substantially overbroad because it applies to public property or ‘anywhere’ a minor
could be present.”

Read the entire ruling:

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LGBTQ literature advocacy org to host celebrity panel

Discussion to be moderated by writer Sa’iyda Shabazz, ‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer



‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by Pride and Less Prejudice on Saturday, June 3. (Photo by Kathclick/Bigstock)

Affectionately known by fans of the show as the “fashionable soprano,” Chris Colfer’s character in “Glee” came out as gay to his father in the fourth episode of the Golden Globe-winning musical drama series. Colfer paused in between fragments of sentences to catch his breath as his pupils, set atop his recognizable rosy cheeks, dilated.

“Being a part of…the glee club and football has really shown me that I can be anything,” he said. “And what I am is…I’m gay.”

Colfer, who is also author of young adult fiction series “The Land of Stories,” will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by LGBTQ organization Pride and Less Prejudice (PLP) on Saturday, June 3. At the event, panelists will discuss queer visibility in authorship and the importance of queer people telling queer stories. 

“We selected [them] because we’re trying to look at the intersection between TV, film, podcasts, [and] books because it’s all media and it’s all really great avenues for queer people telling their own story,” said Rebecca Damante, co-founder and outreach coordinator of the organization.

PLP began in 2019 when Damante had conversations with her mother about her experiences as a queer person and how she came to terms with her sexuality in high school. Although she watched shows such as “Glee” and “Pretty Little Liars” that had great queer representation, she knew that “it would’ve made a huge difference” if she had seen this as a kid.

“I was a huge reader as a kid and my mom had a lot of great books in our library about interfaith families and adoption,” said Damante. “I come from an interfaith family and have family members who are adopted, so she had diverse books in that way but never really had LGBTQ inclusive books.”

This motivated the mother-daughter duo to start an organization that donates LGBTQ-inclusive books to classrooms from pre-K to third grade.

They posted a Google form to social media that was reposted by GLAAD, where Damante had interned, and amplified by LGBTQ activist Kristin Russo. Teachers would put in requests for books and this allowed PLP to start an email chain that they could also use to solicit donations. 

It wasn’t until Damante posted to Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group that rallied Hillary Clinton supporters during her 2016 presidential run, that PLP garnered interest from hundreds of teachers. This led to a celebrity campaign video where actors Nicole Maines, Theo Germaine, and Darryl Stephens, among others, emphasized the importance of LGBTQ literature in classrooms. 

Since 2019, the organization has raised more than $140,000 in grants and donations and donated over 8,000 books. 

Dylan Moss, a kindergarten teacher in Albany, N.Y., is among those who have benefitted from PLP’s efforts. 

During a quest for more diverse and inclusive books for his classroom, he stumbled upon PLP’s website between 2020 and 2021 and reached out to the organization. Since then, he has been actively involved in PLP’s efforts and is now a member of the advisory committee that helps to create lesson plans that accompany the books.

“Biases start to get formed [in kindergarten], so I like to help [my students] create better narratives,” said Moss in a Zoom interview. “It’s easier to learn it now than to take away all the negative biases they have from everyday society, family, and just being around other humans.”

Moss also added, over email, that when discussing diverse topics in the classroom, conversations are aligned with social studies standards. 

“I’d rather [my students] understand that people are different and that there’s a reason we’re different and that we should love that we’re different,” he said on Zoom. “You don’t have to go deep into the ideas necessarily. You can just give them the basis of what you’re saying and kind of let them take it from there.” 

For Lisa Forman, Damante’s mom and co-founder and executive director of PLP, approaching education this way is not only a form of allyship and advocacy, it’s “standing up for what’s right.”

The first half of the 2022-2023 school year saw 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles, 26% of which had LGBTQ characters or themes, according to data from Pen America, an organization that advances human rights and literature causes in the United States and worldwide. 

In 2022, the Washington Blade reported that a Loudoun County, Va., school board voted to remove “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe that contains descriptions and comic book style drawings of sexual acts that Kobabe uses to tell the story of the journey and struggle in discovering the author’s gender identity.

“As much as these books are for the queer kids in the classroom, they’re for every kid,” said Forman. “We’re doing this not just for the queer kids…we want to normalize the idea of being queer in the classroom.”

Looking to the upcoming celebrity panel, Damante wants to leave attendees feeling inspired enough to own their narratives, whether they identify as queer or not. 

“If teachers are able to see the impact of these queer stories then they’ll understand why it’s important for them to share the books,” she said. 

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