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Now is the Time to #getR.E.A.L

  ·   By Bill Bettencourt

Many of us have been awaiting the direction that the Trump Administration will take on issues impacting LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming system-involved youth. There is cause for concern. Yesterday, the Departments of Justice and Education withdrew trans-affirming educational guidance issued by the Obama Administration.  This guidance supported the safety and well-being of transgender youth in school settings and specifically addressed the use of bathrooms and locker rooms. The guidance was rescinded purportedly because of confusion in the courts, schools and communities about the interpretation of the word “sex” under Title IX, the portion of the Education Amendment Acts of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs receiving federal funding. However, the previous administration; professional organizations, such as the National Education Association; policy organizations; advocates; schools and parents spent much time helping policymakers and communities understand and recognize gender identity as a component of “sex”. Their efforts made visible the needs of transgender youth. The rescission of this guidance is a strong effort to keep transgender people invisible to our society and to dishonor and negate their gender identity.  

We have yet to see what additional actions will be taken by the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies that are supposed to support all children, youth and families. For several weeks now, there have been rumors and a leaked draft of a proposed executive order allowing for “religious exemptions” for programs receiving federal dollars to refuse service to LGBTQ children and adults based on religious beliefs.  The order has yet to be issued, but this order and other similar actions would actively undermine the safety and well-being of LGBTQ children, youth, families and communities. 

These actions at the federal level are having real life, stressful and harmful effects on youth. Young people who are not visible and have not come out are more likely to stay in the closet. Young people in schools and communities across the country are experiencing more discrimination and bullying and generally these youth will feel less safe as the Trump Administration’s decisions to deny them their rights, whether under Title IX or other provisions, leaves the door open for continued discrimination and traumatization. 

Young people in schools and communities across the country are experiencing more discrimination and bullying and generally these youth will feel less safe as the Trump Administration’s decisions to deny them their rights, whether under Title IX or other provisions, leaves the door open for continued discrimination and traumatization.

Currently only 19 states have non-discrimination policies that include and protect LGBTQ youth. The remaining states offer no such protection, although some local jurisdictions in these states have established their own inclusive policies.  Communities, schools and allies across the country are putting in place policies and practices that affirm LGBTQ children, youth and families, support their well-being and are examples for how we want our future to look. We must be diligent in supporting and sharing these examples to help spread them. 

Within this broader attack on the rights of LGBTQ young people and families, we are concerned about those young people in contact with the child welfare system, as they often have less family support that guide their healthy sexual and identity development. LGBTQ youth and youth of color are disproportionality represented in child welfare systems and we are concerned about the stigma and discrimination they experience while simultaneously dealing with past trauma. The ways in which child welfare systems work now to ensure LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming children and families are supported will be different depending on the state, urban or rural community within which they operate.  We urge leaders of these systems, many of whom are our partners, to remain focused on the mission and mandate to achieve permanence, safety and well-being for all system-involved children. In this climate, child welfare leaders, staff and partners must work even harder to ensure that these children and youth get equal access to education and equitable opportunities to promote healthy development so they have fulfilling lives. 

As we see what comes of pending court cases, federal policies, legislation and executive orders, let us stay focused on our mission and how within our very diverse national landscape we can collectively support one another and find ways to be creative in terms of policy, practice and the use of our resources.  Please know that we at CSSP are committed to doing our part moving forward and seeking out and working with our partners to support our public systems and its partners in their efforts.

This is a continually evolving issue and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we learn new information. Please continue to check our blog, at CSSP.org for the newest information.

For more information about policies that support LGBTQ youth in child welfare see, view our report Out of the Shadows: Supporting LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare through Cross-System Collaboration. 
 

Bill Bettencourt is a Senior Fellow at CSSP and leads work on getR.E.A.L., an initiative that supports the healthy sexual and identity development of children and youth involved in public systems, particularly children and youth who identify as LGBTQ

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