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To: The Honorable Sylvia M. Burwell, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Tell the Obama Administration to Prohibit LGBTQ Discrimination in Foster Care
We write to you today as clergy and faith leaders who serve diverse communities across the United States and are dedicated to affirming the sacred dignity and worth of every person. We urge you to issue guidance unequivocally prohibiting discrimination against LGBT children and adults by federally funded state and private child welfare providers. We also urge you to do so without including a religious exemption, which would only serve to dramatically undermine the worthy goals of the guidance, and would authorize taxpayer-funded discrimination.
Why is this important?
For the more than 400,000 children in foster care across our nation, this action would have an enormous, life-changing impact. The teachings of our respective faiths may diverge on issues of theology and practice, but all speak clearly of our duty to protect the stranger, the orphan and the widow: the most vulnerable members of our society. We are called to do all we can to ensure children grow up with loving, supportive families that will set them on the path toward happy and healthy adulthood. Removing the barriers that currently prevent LGBT adults from becoming parents for these children has the potential to bring an estimated two million potential parents forward to provide loving, permanent homes. The primary reason hundreds of thousands of children remain in, or age out of, the foster care system is a lack of qualified homes. This is a moral travesty.
This Administration has made historic progress in the advancement of LGBT rights across the country and your Department has been at the forefront of these changes. Yet, if action is not taken before the end of the Administration to prohibit discrimination in adoption and foster care, a critical piece of this work will remain woefully unfinished. It is crucial that the Obama Administration takes decisive action to ensure that otherwise qualified adoptive and foster parents are not turned away simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, and that LGBT and gender non-conforming youth in care do not face discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
A foundational principle of our child welfare services is the best interest of the child. We firmly believe that ensuring qualified parents are not turned away, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, in addition to protecting youth themselves, is one of the most important steps you can take to meet the needs of children in foster care. Further, we do not believe there should be any exemption to permit religiously affiliated child welfare providers to discriminate against LGBT youth and prospective parents while conducting public foster care and adoption placements and service delivery with significant sums of taxpayer dollars. Such an exemption would undermine this foundational principle by prioritizing the provider’s religious beliefs over the best interests of the children they contract with the government to serve, while also sanctioning discrimination with public dollars.
Although the primary responsibility of child welfare agencies and their contractors is to meet a child’s need for safety, permanency and well-being, many LGBT youth face physical threat, harassment, rejection and discrimination from state-funded providers. Due largely to family rejection, LGBT youth are over-represented in child welfare systems compared to their non- LGBT peers, are placed in group homes and residential facilities at higher rates, and often exit to homelessness and increased risk of commercial sexual exploitation. While some states offer explicit protections for LGBT youth, most do not, and an LGBT youth’s safety, well-being, and fair treatment depends largely on a luck of the draw.
This month is the last National Foster Care Month of the Obama Administration. We hope you will take this opportunity to use your authority as Secretary to put the needs of children first by issuing guidance ending discrimination against potential adoptive and foster parents and children in foster care based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, without exceptions.