Losing Our Way: Congressional Attacks on LGBT Parents Hurt Foster Kids, Too

In a disappointing backlash to LGBTQ rights in the United States, the House Appropriations Committee this summer passed the Aderholt Amendment—which, if allowed to advance, would become a license to discriminate against LGBTQ families for some adoption agencies and harm thousands of children in foster care.

Children and LGBTQ parents march in a San Francisco Pride Parade. (Caitlin Childs / Creative Commons)

The amendment—which was attached to a funding bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education—would threaten federal funding for adoption and foster care programs in states that penalize agencies for refusing to house children with LGBTQ families. For some taxpayer-funded religious adoption agencies who have fought for religious refusal from such anti-discrimination measures, the legislation would allow them to cause harm to 100,000 children in the U.S. foster system.

“I was outraged to hear many of the Republicans on the committee endorse homophobia and bigotry,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said in a statement to Ms. “Loving families come in all shapes and sizes—allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT couples is shameful, wrong and deeply un-American. I hope the Senate will stop this disgraceful amendment from moving any further, and I hope my colleagues think twice before trying to once again enshrine discrimination and homophobia into law.”

In addition to affecting LGBTQ parents and adults, the Aderholt Amendment threatens the safety and wellbeing of young LGBTQ people—especially young trans people who aren’t explicitly protected in 37 states, according to GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, which also reported that 75 percent of trans students felt unsafe at school. LGBTQ children are already disproportionately represented in the foster care system, and queer and trans youth unfortunately still face the risk of familial rejection and homelessness just for living their authentic lives. 

And although the amendment has drawn widespread attention for its attempt to legalize state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ families, it also allows for the possibility of discriminating against other would-be parents—including interfaith couples, single parents and candidates with histories of divorce.

“It should be so obvious we don’t have to write it: Allowing adoption agencies to ignore millions of potential parents is a terrible idea for our nation’s youth in foster care. Yet here we are,” Sean Carlson and Jamie McGonnigal wrote in The Advocate. “As two American adoptive dads, we challenge Aderholt to come to our home for dinner. We dare him to sit across from us at our table, break bread with us, meet our family and tell us that we aren’t qualified to be parents.”

This pushback against LGBTQ rights takes place as the country awaits the potential appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—a nominee who would undoubtedly undo much of the progress made in courts by LGBTQ advocates over the last decades. According to UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy, Kavanaugh’s nomination poses a potential danger for parenting rights—alongside marriage rights and benefits, transgender military service, federal protections against anti-LGBTQ discrimination and safety from discrimination via religious exemptions. 

“I feel like we are losing our way here. The cardinal rule of adoption and foster care is to put the best interests of children first, and this is not what this amendment is about,” Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said to her colleagues after the amendment cleared committee. “This is public dollars. These are our children who need homes.”

Clark pointed out to her peers that adoption rates and foster placement rates increased in Massachusetts, Illinois and D.C. when their governments allowed for all “loving” and “suitable” homes to foster or adopt children. “To say that we are going to somehow put the needs of service providers over those of these children who just want a permanent, loving home,” Clark said, “it’s appalling. It is unconstitutional. And it is fundamentally against our values.”

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About

Brock Colyar is a former editorial intern at Ms. He is currently a journalism and gender and sexuality studies major at Northwestern University, where he founded a campus queer and radical feminist magazine and serves as a sexual health and assault peer educator. Much of his spare time is spent overthinking intra-feminist politics and Stevie Nicks. You can follow him on Twitter @UnhappyFem (Photo via Colin Boyle/The Daily Northwestern.)