Advocating for LGBTQ Youth

Aug 27 2015

By Steven Olender

I don't know how I would have made it through growing up gay without supportive parents and a community that stood up for my needs. LGBTQ kids in the foster care system, many of whom end up in care after being abused or kicked out of their homes because of their orientation or gender identity, aren't granted any of those advantages. We don't have a single residential treatment center that is specifically designed to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth in Texas. And in the Austin area, only one placement for foster youth has programs geared specifically towards LGBTQ youth. This is not to say that all other facilities are discriminatory towards LGBTQ youth, but it points to the very clear fact that there is not suitable focus in this community toward the needs of one of our most vulnerable populations.

CASA gives special attention to advocating for LGBTQ youth in the foster care system, but with extremely limited resources, it is difficult to meet their needs, especially for trans youth. One particular case comes to mind of a transgender youth in our Transitioning Youth Program. Due to trauma he had experienced (and was experiencing), he self harmed and required 24-hour care to keep him safe. Unfortunately, most treatment centers set up for this level of care refused to take on trans kids. We were told repeatedly that different centers wouldn't take him "because he would be discriminated against."

After numerous failed placements, we were able to advocate for him to receive a specialized therapist and the treatment center where he was placed has since sent staff to be specifically trained for his care. It's a step in the right direction but we are still far from a happy ending.

We see it all too often with LGBTQ kids, placements that aren't suited to their needs, who won't allow them to exercise their gender expression because it would be "upsetting" to other kids, or who send them to psych hospitals because they don't conform. We've been told by therapists assigned to trans youth, youth who need their therapists to help them process what they are going through, that they won't be allowed to discuss their gender or have trans visitors because it would "bring up too much."

CASA ensures that all of our volunteers advocate strongly for the needs of any LGBTQ youth in care and that they will not discriminate against potential LGBTQ foster or adoptive placements. Before placing youth with any family or treatment center, CASA checks with the placement to ensure they will be receptive to the specific needs of the youth, but for many placements, the reality of parenting an LGBTQ youth is different from what they imagine and youth are moved again or told they need to tone it down.

For too long, youth have been left out of the conversation on LGBTQ rights. It's time that we focus on the treatment of the most vulnerable among us.