Respect Equality

LGBTQ+ teens struggle to find acceptance, and a home, in New York City

Marchers in the annual LGBTQ+ rights parade from New York’s 4th street to 59th.  Peter Keegan/Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • A new survey by the Administration for Children’s Services found that more than 34 percent of youths in foster care between the ages of 13 and 21 identify as LGBTQ+.
  • The LGBTQ+ youth population in the New York foster care system has a disproportionate amount of people of color, with almost three-quarters of the sample identifying as Black.
  • The ACS hopes to use the information they have gathered from the survey to provide better care and more placements for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care.

While most teenagers struggle to feel accepted by their peers at school, LGBTQ+ identifying youth often face that same issue in another critical space as well — within their own homes. There is a reason that advocacy groups have long spoken out about their beliefs that LGBTQ+ teenagers are vastly overrepresented in New York’s foster care system. The catalyst is typically a lack of acceptance at home, when parents and other family members refuse to accept the reality of their child’s identity.

Now, a new survey published on Tuesday by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) confirms it, finding that more than a third of youths in New York City’s foster care system identify as LGBTQ+.

The survey reveals telling data about the unique struggles of gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers in the city, as disparities between them and their heterosexual peers became evident. The teenagers who identify as LGBTQ+ are not only more likely to report experiencing negative interactions with the police and feelings of hopelessness, but they are also placed more often into group homes rather than in traditional family-based homes.

When the data is broken down, 13 percent of youth in the foster care system identify as transgender, 13.5 percent identify as bisexual or pansexual, 5.6 percent are lesbian or gay, 4.8 percent are questioning and 2.7 percent employ “other labels” in self-identifying. A majority of LGBTQ+ individuals in the foster care system are Black, and the percentage of non-LGBTQ Black youth is roughly the same at 57 percent. Latinx individuals make up 43.9 percent of the population of LGBTQ+ youth, a higher percentage however than the 39.4 percent of non-LGBTQ Latinx kids in the foster care system.

A New York Times journalist spoke with some of the LGBTQ+ youth in New York’s foster care system for an article that was published earlier this week, such as a transgender 19-year-old living in a foster home in the Bronx — placed there by a child welfare agency after his mother forced him to participate in what he described as an “exorcism” in an attempt to change his identity.

“You don’t know when you’re going to be moved again,” a now 24-year-old Destiny Simmons, who identifies as bisexual, told the outlet. “So, it’s like, why form a bond with this person when it could just be broken?”

The search for hope

The survey also found a link between LGBTQ+ youth homelessness and incidences of depression and hopelessness, with 51.8 percent of LGBTQ+ youth reporting little interest or pleasure in doing things compared to 31.5 percent of non-LGBTQ+ youth. 

“The relatively lower well-being among LGBTQAI+ youth found in this study is something that we see in LGBTQAI+ youth in general,” said Theo Sandfort, a professor at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons who analyzed the findings of the telephone survey. “However, this lower well-being also seems to result from more negative experiences that LGBTAQI+ youth have in foster care. It is important to further understand what the specific needs of LGBTQAI+ youth in foster care are and how they can best be addressed.”

The ACS said that it has now used the survey’s findings to develop a concrete plan to decrease the number of LGBTQ+ youths in the foster care system, as well as increase placements with nonparental relatives and more accepting foster families. The agency also hopes to improve the young peoples’ overall mental wellbeing.

“We look forward to implementing our multi-pronged action plan, which will help us strengthen our policies and practices to improve the overall health and well-being of LGBTQAI+ youth in care,” ACS Commissioner David A. Hansell said in a written statement. “It is our hope that this work will serve as a national model for jurisdictions across the country so that all LGBTQAI+ youth in care get the services and support they need to succeed.”

Along with the main goals above, the ACS has also made promises to move ahead with eight key objectives for increasing the quality of life for LGBTQ+ youth in New York’s foster care system, including an update on the “LGBTQAI+ Youth in Care Policy.” They’ll be revisiting and bolstering staff training on LGBTQ+ issues, increasing services and support for queer youth, forming a dedicated “LGBTQAI+ Committee” on the ACS Youth Leadership Council, taking steps to recruit more LGBTQ+ friendly foster parents, conducting more studies to continue learning, as well as advocating for LGBTQ-affirming policies in collaboration with national advocacy groups.

If you or someone you know is struggling at home and needs help, there are resources for you to turn to. One option is the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that provides multiple 24-hour services for LGBTQ+ youth, including TrevorSpace, a social networking site specifically for LGBTQ+ youth, and a network of trained crisis service counselors who can be reached online, through text or over the phone.









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