Gillibrand reintroduces legislation to protect LGBTQ youth and families in foster care

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has re-introduced The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has re-introduced The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act.

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has reintroduced The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would bar federally-funded welfare agencies from discriminating against youth and families on the basis of religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

The legislation, which was reintroduced on June 20, would also require the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to create a national resource center for LGBTQ+ youth to promote the safety, stability, well-being, and family placement of LGBTQ youth through training, technical assistance, actions, and guidance. The center would strive to improve LGBTQ cultural competency, promote the provision of child welfare services to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth and their families, collect data on the sexual orientation and gender identity of youth in the child welfare system, and more, according to the bill’s text.

Congressmember Danny Davis of Illinois is proposing companion legislation in the lower house, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced in the House of Representatives.

The legislation would create more uniformity in foster care policy at a time when 13 states allow child welfare agencies to reject suitable foster and adoptive parents due to their identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project’s outline of child welfare non-discrimination laws.

“As states across the country attempt to pass anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, this bill will solidify protections for some of our most marginalized and vulnerable children and enable them to find loving homes,” Gillibrand said in a written statement. “It will ensure that taxpayer-funded adoption service and foster care providers cannot engage in discrimination against children or potential parents. It will ban deeply damaging practices like conversion therapy and help place foster youth in safe and loving homes. I’m proud to be introducing this legislation and I look forward to fighting to get it passed.” 

Davis echoed Gillibrand, saying the government has a “unique responsibility to ensure that each and every child in foster care finds a loving, affirming family.”

“The Every Child Deserves a Family Act promotes the best interests of children by increasing the number of foster and adoptive homes available to all children in foster care,” Davis said. 

The legislation has been introduced in the past, but it has yet to come to fruition — and it is not likely to pass a GOP-led house. Still, it has dozens of Democratic co-sponsors in the upper house, including out lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

While there have been federal regulations in place to protect individuals in foster care agencies, those are subject to change depending on who is in office. The Trump administration, for example, allowed a taxpayer-funded foster care agency in South Carolina to reject same-sex prospective parents. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offered Miracle Hill Ministries — a homophobic South Carolina-based foster care agency — an exemption from HHS regulation 45 CFR §75.300(c), which barred discrimination in HHS programs and services based on a wide range of factors. Last year, the Biden administration moved to strengthen federal protections for youth in foster care.

Discrimination in foster care is also an issue in New York City, where The Ali Forney Center — a shelter provider offering 24-hour support to homeless queer youth — announced an agreement with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services this year to improve policies and training programs among staffers in response to reports of anti-LGBTQ remarks and treatment by state and city workers, such as refusing to use a client’s chosen name.

“The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act would provide critical protections for the one in three youth in foster care who identify as LGBTQ+, families of origin, and countless LGBTQ+ individuals nationwide who wish to form their families through foster care and adoption,” Jaymes Black, president & CEO of Family Equality, said in a written statement. “As LGBTQ+ individuals across the country, particularly trans and non-binary youth, face an unprecedented level of attacks, it is important now more than ever that Congress acts to ensure our child welfare system supports and affirms all youth and does not let prejudice keep them from a safe and loving family.”

Currey Cook, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, also praised the bill, saying it “makes it explicit and clear that LGBTQ+ children and families, including kin and foster and adoptive families, across the country are protected from harm and discrimination as they interact with agencies and service providers.”, which is a website dedicated to getting the legislation over the finish line, lists hundreds of organizations that have signed on to support the bill, including child welfare and health groups, faith groups, civil rights groups, and LGBTQ groups.