WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand is reintroducing a bill she’s been working on for over a decade, that would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ families and children in the adoption and foster care systems.
The Every Child Deserves a Family Act, once championed by the late Rep. John R. Lewis, D-Georgia, would prevent child welfare agencies that receive funding from the federal government from turning away parents based on their sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
Currently, nonprofit adoption agencies that receive federal funds are not prohibited from setting certain guidelines for potential adoptive families. Many organizations, especially faith-based ones, will stipulate that same-sex couples, transgender people, unmarried individuals and even those who follow minority religions are unable to adopt children.
At the same time, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care as of this year, and 120,000 are actively waiting for an adoptive family, according to Stacey Stevenson, chief executive officer of Family Equality, a nonprofit that advocates and lobbies for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer family rights. More than half of those children awaiting adoption won’t see a family by the end of the year, Mrs. Stevenson said.
“There are so many families who are ready, willing and waiting to bring those children into their homes, but are blocked from doing so by organizations that discriminate against potential parents,” said Sen. Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “This has to change. Organizations that receive taxpayer dollars cannot be allowed to discriminate against caring and responsible foster and adoptive parents.”
The senator said the issue is double-edged. At the same time that LGBTQ and minority religion families are being prevented from adopting children, children who identify as LGBTQ or follow a minority religion are languishing in the care of agencies that don’t respect their rights and individuality.
Sen. Gillibrand said 30% of youths in foster care identify as LGBTQ, compared to 10% in the general population.
“Sadly, we’ve seen that those children are often subjected to further hostility in their foster homes in New York,” she said. “In New York, studies show that three in four LGBTQ youth ran away or were removed from their foster homes because of the hostilities they faced. More than half felt safer living on the street.”
LGBTQ children run away from home at higher rates per-capita than heterosexual, cisgender youth and an estimated 30% to 40% of homeless people under the age of 18 in the U.S. are LGBTQ.
Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case against the city of Philadelphia, which banned a Catholic adoption service from receiving city funding because they refuse to place foster children with same-sex couples, in violation of the city’s non-discrimination policy. The Catholic foster service, Catholic Social Services, argues that the city’s policy is religiously discriminatory.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in that case last November, but have yet to render a decision.
Sen. Gillibrand said the Every Child Deserves a Family Act would require the federal government collect data on LGBTQ children and families to track issues and trends, and establish a national resource center for LGBTQ youth in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That, along with efforts to improve the quality of care in the foster system and allowing more families to adopt children, could significantly reduce the abuse and homelessness rates among LGBTQ children.
“I believe that everyone has a right to a loving and supportive family,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “This legislation will help us make that right a reality for more parents and more children, as John Lewis said when he championed this legislation. This bill is the right thing to do, and quite frankly it’s long overdue.”
Sen. Gillibrand has supported the Every Child Deserves a Family Act in the Senate every year since 2011, and Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of when she first introduced it to the Senate floor.
The bill was introduced by the late Mr. Lewis in the House last year, but did not move beyond the Ways and Means Committee. Sen. Gillibrand introduced the bill in the Senate that year as well, although it did not move beyond the Senate Finance Committee.
Sen. Gillibrand said, although there is bipartisan support for this bill in the House with Rep. Jenniffer A. Gonzalez-Colon, the Republican resident commissioner for Puerto Rico, currently only 20 Democratic senators have officially co-sponsored the bill in the Senate.
“We don’t have a bipartisan supporter in the Senate, you may have that in the House, but what we do have is more than 175 major welfare and health associations, faith organizations and civil rights associations that support this bill,” she said.
The senator said she sees more momentum and support for this bill now than ever before, and with Democrats in control of Congress and the White House for the first time since the bill was introduced, she said she thinks this is the year to pass it.
She said she would like to include the bill with a package of so-called “must-pass” legislation — a bill that senators must vote yes on due to other included items regardless of potential single-issue objections.
“The agenda for the next six months is going to be all about rebuilding from COVID, and we’re going to work on both hard and soft infrastructure,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “Building up child care, building up support services for families. This can be very much part of that agenda.”