To Pose is to Resist

  ·   By Viet Tran

If you attend most gay bars in major cities on any given Thursday, you’ll find that they are crowded with people excited to watch the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality TV show featuring a number of drag queens all competing for a coveted title. Each Thursday, the audience brims with excitement, clacks their fans, debates which queen will serve “realness” tonight and how they’re all really into voguing now. And while RuPaul’s Drag Race has popularized drag more than ever and inculcated a culture and language within the LGBTQ community and beyond, we must recognize the individuals and the community that paved the road and the ballroom culture that continues to be influential to present day.

With decades of relevance, the ballroom subculture has gained thousands of members and inspired several productions from documentaries like Paris is Burning and The Queen to FX’s newest series¸ Pose. The national subculture which evolved from Harlem drag balls throughout the 1930’s Harlem Renaissance, provides a platform that celebrates all forms of gender and sexual expression, but most importantly, it provides many queer Black and Latinx youth and young adults a chosen kinship structure through which collective impact, resilience, and vital resources are shared.

Even today, balls are as necessary and crucial in the cohesion of LGBTQ culture as they were in their formative years nearly nine decades ago. Persevering against adversity and powering through systems and institutions that historically have and continue to fail them, queer youth of color have always worked to fill in the gaps. They have always and continue to find ways to survive, organize, and fight for themselves and their communities.

Though we may enjoy RuPaul’s Drag Race and the visibility it brings to the LGBTQ and drag communities, we must acknowledge the roots planted by queer youth and young people who envisioned a world where queer communities could be liberated through unapologetic love and transformative healing. The next time we praise a drag queen for showing “realness,” we must also recognize that there is legislation impeding LGBTQ and gender-expansive youth to be their total and true selves. We must continue to ensure that our work is focused on mitigating the impact of efforts that will undermine the rights and jeopardize the safety of LGBTQ youth, especially youth of color and those involved in public systems.

As we dance and vogue to CeCe Peniston or Cheryl Lynn, let’s remember that to pose is to resist. For many queer youth of color, the ballroom scene and houses stand as vital lifelines. These spaces are sanctuaries, transformative sites of community, and safe and loving homes. These are spaces that we need to celebrate, protect, and defend.

Learn more about CSSP’s getR.E.A.L initiative, which works to improve the lives of LGBTQ children and youth involved with the child welfare system. Within the getR.E.A.L initiative, our organizing work aims to strengthen the ballroom scene through Keeping Ballroom Community Alive Network. The network provides the alternatives for youth of color throughout the country to receive the supports and systems they need which our public systems have failed to provide.

***Photo taken by S Pakhrin of a Voguing Masquerade Ball at the National Museum of African Arts


Viet Tran is the communications manager at CSSP.

On Zero Tolerance, There is More Work to Be Done

  ·   By Susan Notkin
On Zero Tolerance, There is More Work to Be Done

Over the past month, millions of people across the country and overseas have called for the administration to cease separating children and families at the border. Yesterday President Trump signed an executive order that purports to do just that, but it would be a mistake for us to celebrate this new direction.

First, there is no plan on the table to reunite the over 2,300 children who have been ripped from their parents. Every day that these children are away from their families is adding further trauma to them and their parents. 

Second, the order is attempting to nullify the 1997 consent decree resulting in the Flores Settlement Agreement that guarantees protections for minors apprehended by immigration authorities. Under Flores and subsequent court decisions, the government is required to limit the amount of time unaccompanied minors can be detained to 20 days and keep them in the least restrictive setting possible. President Trump’s executive order calls on the Department of Justice to seek a modification of the Flores settlement so that children can be detained indefinitely, with no apparent minimum standards for detention facilities. This is inhumane and inconsistent with what we know about child welfare, trauma, and what children need to thrive. 

Third, until new family detention centers are built we can only wonder where these children will go. There is nothing in the executive order that addresses this issue nor indicates what level of standard of care these facilities will be required to meet.

So, as much as we might be tempted to feel relief that this horrific policy, which has shaken our country to its core, has been suspended, the fight for justice for these families and humane policies must not wane. We must push for longer term policies that are driven by what we know about best practices in child welfare, trauma, child development, immigration, housing, and social justice to ensure that the thousands of families who are fleeing violence and extreme poverty secure the better future for their children that they seek.


Susan Notkin is a Senior Vice President at CSSP.

A Shout Out to Fathers and Father Figures

  ·   By Derick Gomez
A Shout Out to Fathers and Father Figures

In celebration of Father's Day, CSSP would like to give a shout out to all fathers and father figures!

The facts are out there highlighting the importance of relationships between fathers and their children for healthy child development and well-being of families. Research shows that children with involved fathers are twice as likely to enter college or find stable employment after high school and 75 percent less likely to have a teen birth as those who do not report a close relationship with their fathers. Children in foster care with highly involved nonresidential fathers are discharged more quickly, are more likely to be reunified and have a lower likelihood of subsequent maltreatment.

CSSP works to ensure public systems are shaped and guided by the latest research and best practice. In February 2017, we released a report Changing Systems & Practice to Improve Outcomes For Young Fathers, Their Children & Their Families providing recommendations on how child welfare systems can better engage and support fathers in their role as parents and increase positive outcomes for fathers, their children and families.

Public systems have long been responsible for reproducing the dominant oppressive narrative of fathers, especially fathers of color, as absent and negligent. Policy and practice centered on these assumptions create barriers and inequities that minimize fathers’ participation in their children’s lives to the detriment of thriving families and communities throughout the country.

CSSP is issuing a call to action this Father’s Day in support of public system efforts to better engage and serve fathers and father figures.  

Suggested action steps:

  • Leading with data that highlights fathers’ strengths and contributions to child well-being and thriving families.
  • Ensuring physical spaces are reflective of inclusive images of fathers. 
  • Uplifting the voices of fathers and ensuring they inform policy and practice decisions.
  • Being mindful of language used in communication and on forms.
  • Tweeting positive and inclusive messages that uplift parenthood, fatherhood and those who serve as father figures. This year, consider using any of the following hashtags: #fathersday2018, #ilovemydad, #thanksdad, #BestDadAward, #MyDadMyHero

CSSP challenges you to ask what you will do this Father’s Day to support the recognition of fathers as key members of families and as part of shaping better futures for children, families and communities.


Derick Gomez is a program and research assistant at CSSP.


CSSP Staff Reflection: Moving Forward this Pride Month

  ·   By Bill Bettencourt

The first Gay Pride Parade took place in 1970 in New York City to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall (“Riots”) Resistance, the birth of the gay rights movement. I attended the first Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, which occurred in 1972. It was a fun event celebrating who we were as a community when we began saying “no more” to being stigmatized for being ourselves. In 1972 politicians in so-called liberal San Francisco steered clear of the parade. Today across the country politicians run to be included in Pride events and to campaign for our votes. Over time, as a culture, we have evolved and gained some rights, including gay marriage. Still those most impacted by stigma are the very folks who started the movement at Stonewall: queer people of color. Our parades have turned into parties and advertisements and political campaigning; for the most part, huge celebrations in many cities in the US.  

Our getREAL Initiative has been working to improve the lives of LGBT children and youth involved with the child welfare system. Those youth overrepresented in and most negatively impacted by the system are LGBTQ youth of color. Through work in California and Allegheny County, PA we hope to demonstrate ways in which systems can do better for these young people. Through the network we have more than 80 child welfare public system, non-profit and advocacy groups and others; our goal is to provide resources and tools to support their work and ensure that the young people they work with are better served. Through our youth organizing work we aim to strengthen the Ballroom Scene through the newly developed Keeping Ballroom Community Alive Network ( The network provides the alternatives that youth of color throughout the country have created to get the support they need which our public systems have failed to do. 

And now we at CSSP stand ready to work with our colleagues across the country to resist the movement occurring at the state and federal level to push back the progress we have made over the past years. The use of religious exemptions to allow discrimination by agencies receiving government funds is but a step among many occurring right now. This PRIDE month needs to be one that is a call to action to defend and protect the rights of the LGBTQ community. We at CSSP are committed to doing our small part to ensure that our work is focused on mitigating the impact of efforts that will undermine our rights and the progress we have made. I remain committed to the resistance—both personally and professionally. I ask that all of you doing this valuable work also join me in that commitment. Join us in commemorating Stonewall this PRIDE month as we enter the next phase of the movement.

Bill Bettencourt is a senior fellow at CSSP.

Across the nation, advocates and state legislators are seeking solutions to improve racial disparities in child welfare, and in some instances, are targeting efforts specifically towards improving outcomes for African American children and their families – who are one of the most disproportionally impacted demographics throughout U.S. child welfare history. One of these efforts is taking place in Minnesota’s State Legislature with the consideration of the African American Family Preservation Act. The purposes of this bill are to: “(1) protect the best interests of African American children, and (2) promote the stability and security of African American families by establishing minimum standards to prevent arbitrary and unnecessary removal of African American children from their families.” The legislation goes on to propose several ways of accomplishing these two goals, such as to allow – when necessary –parents, guardians and social workers to petition the court for reinstatement of parental rights, which is a power currently only granted to the county attorney. 

Though each component of the piece of legislation is crucial, one particular section stands out amongst the others: Section 4 reads that local social service agencies are required to “make active efforts to prevent out-of-home placement of African American children, eliminate the need for a child’s removal from the home, and reunify a child and family as soon as practicable.” Applying this standard would revolutionize the responsibility of Minnesota’s child welfare agencies to serve African American children and families. Although this is revolutionary, the idea to hold child welfare agencies accountable to making active efforts – rather than reasonable efforts –is not a new one. 

The idea of applying an active efforts standard is borrowed from the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Prior to the passage of ICWA in 1978, there were no federal protections in place to keep Native children with Native families. The lack of federal protections, combined with the fact that the U.S. government failed to recognize these children as part of separate nations led to excessive removal of Native children from their families, homes and communities, with many of them being placed in boarding schools as an assimilation effort. In fact, before ICWA’s implementation, data suggest that approximately 75 – 80 percent of Native families living on reservations had at least one child removed from their home by a public or private child welfare agency. Though the passage of ICWA brought about many changes to how child welfare agencies interact with tribes, perhaps one of the most important is the switch in both policy and practice regarding the standard of removal. Rather than having Native families adhere to the standard policy of ensuring that child welfare agencies have made reasonable efforts to keep the child at home, these agencies have to prove that active efforts were made to keep the child at home. 

More than just a symbolic change, the active efforts standard is one which allows the court to hold child welfare agencies accountable to African American children and families. A Child Welfare Information Gateway report explains that, while every state has a broad definition of what constitutes reasonable efforts, a court generally looks to ensure that the efforts made were accessible, available and culturally appropriate services specifically designed to improve the capacity of families to provide their children with safe and stable homes. Meanwhile, ICWA mandates that state child welfare agencies make active efforts, such as early participation and consultation with the child’s tribe in all case planning decisions, in order to provide services to the family in order to prevent removal of an Indian child from the parents or from Indian custody. Additionally, active efforts are required to reunify an Indian child with their parent or Indian custody after removal. 

Unfortunately, despite being labeled the “gold standard” in child welfare practice, ICWA efforts face widespread issues with non-compliance and Native children continue to be disproportionately represented in the child welfare system. For this reason, Minnesota’s legislation contains several proposed accountability measures, such as the creation of both the African American Child Welfare Oversight Council and the African American Child Well-Being Department within the Department of Human Services. The proposed purpose of this department would be to assess each case involving an African American family to ensure that removal from the home and placement in foster care is a last resort. Another section of the legislation proposes the creation of African American Child Welfare grants, which are to be made available to African American-led organizations, service providers and programs that serve African American children and families. Advocates, parents and policymakers who support the bill are hopeful that measures such as these will help to curb issues of non-compliance. 

The critical nature of the African American Family Preservation Act becomes amplified when held against a backdrop of heartbreaking data: According to 2016 data in Minnesota’s Child Maltreatment Report, African American families account for nearly 20 percent of child maltreatment cases, despite only being about 6 percent of the overall population. African American children are at a slightly more than three times greater likelihood than white children to be reported to child protection and to be removed from their homes. By requiring that agencies and caseworkers make active efforts, thereby enacting a higher standard in order to “preserve the family, prevent breakup of the family, and reunify the family,” this bill has the potential to radically shift the outcomes of Minnesota’s African American children and families for generations to come. 

Click here for the latest updates on tracking the status of the African American Family Preservation Act.

Erika Feinman is a program and research assistant at CSSP.