Story at a glance
- LGBTQ+ youth are facing difficult home situations and loss of unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
- A new study highlights the challenges LGBTQ+ youth face in the child welfare system.
- The report comes on the heels of two major federal decisions on LGBTQ+ discrimination.
Gerald Bostock was fired from his job in the child welfare services department in Clayton County, Ga., after joining a gay recreational softball league. Seven years later — June 15, 2020 — the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, deciding that LGBTQ+ employees were protected from workplace discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“[After] hearing from the federal government on Friday that its okay to discriminate against LGBTQ people in healthcare, hearing from the Supreme Court on Monday that it’s not okay to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the workplace is an incredible thing and a very powerful thing,” said Christina Wilson Remlin, lead counsel at Children’s Rights.
Remlin is well acquainted with discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans in the country’s child welfare system. She helped author a new report that examines how the coronavirus pandemic has affected LGBTQ+ youth in the care of child welfare systems.
“It’s important to have a very urgent reminder that our child welfare systems need to become safer places for LGBTQ young people. This population is already exposed to a great deal of danger,” she said.
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Studies have found that 26 percent of LGBTQ+ youth, especially transgender youth, are forced from their homes due to conflicts with their families over their sexual orientation or gender identity, with 30 percent of LGBTQ+ youth reporting physical violence from family member after coming out. . With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the support systems that child welfare offers have been limited just as children are kept home from school and in close quarters with their abusers.
Katharine Sloss-Hartman, Site Coordinator at Youth on Fire, a drop-in center in Massachusetts for homeless and at-risk youth, told the report's authors that her now-closed program was one of the only ones in the area geared towards LGBTQ+ youth.
“I worry that they’re left with two options in the face of this: one option is that they will need to return to unsafe family situations that they’d already had to flee before. For so many of our clients, the streets are safer for them than their homes, so the fact that some may have to return to unsafe and potentially abusive family situations is unacceptable and scary. Otherwise, if they don’t want to sleep outside, they will be forced into overcrowded shelters that are not meant for youth to begin with, let alone LGBTQ youth,” she said in the report.
Some LGBTQ+ youth have also been cut off from vital health care due to the pandemic, both physical and mental, including access to PrEP, which protects against HIV, or testing for sexually transmitted infections (STI). For those that are transitioning, the pandemic has halted doctors appointments and treatments, leaving them vulnerable to gender dysphoria and other mental health issues.
"I have a friend who is trans and homeless. They don’t have the best relationship with their family because they’re trans-phobic. But, because of COVID, they stopped their hormones so they could go home. They’re experiencing a lot of dysphoria right now. It’s really hard," said Chris, a 24-year old who formerly experienced homelessness, in the report. Of his own experience, he said, "I had a therapist pre-COVID, and I would see them in person. I find it easier to talk in person, so I haven’t met with them really. I tried therapy over the phone once at the beginning of this, but it was really hard, distracting, and not super helpful. I stopped seeing my therapist because of that."
LGBTQ+ people are also more likely to have their work hours cut during the coronavirus pandemic, according to recent data. Others are forced to choose between risking their health and earning money to feed themselves. Nearly 28 percent of youth reported "having a food crisis" or being "very low on food" in a national poll of 172 young people currently or formerly in foster care.
The report lays out recommendations for local, state and federal government agencies as well as child welfare agencies themselves. Remlin said that she expects a significant influx of LGBTQ+ young people once students return to schools, with educators being a major source of reporting child abuse and neglect.
"We’re having a pause so let's think about what works and what does not work about how to build a more just world when we come back to it," she said.
After the Supreme Court’s decision was announced on June 15, Remlin was optimistic about its implications for the LGBTQ+ community.
“As a native Georgian, I celebrate this day especially for Gerald Bostock –– the plaintiff named in one of the two cases decided [Monday] –– who worked tirelessly for children in Clayton County, Georgia as a child welfare advocate. Under his leadership, the county won national awards for its work, but they repaid him by firing him after ten years because he joined a gay softball league. Mr. Bostock‘s contributions to the child welfare field have now been vindicated by the Supreme Court,” she said in a statement.
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