In Los Angeles, one in five youth in foster care identify as LGBT or questioning. They are twice as likely to live in a group facility rather than with a family, two times as likely to report poor treatment by the foster system, and three times more likely to end up in a hospital for emotional reasons. It is also far too common for transgender and gender nonconforming youth to have social workers who don’t fully understand them and fail to get them connected to the services they need.
“People need to understand the challenges and barriers that LGBTQ identified young folks face within the foster care and child welfare system—specifically as it relates to discrimination and bias,” says Eko Canillas, program manager of Los Angeles LGBT Center's RISE (Recognize Intervene Support Empower) initiative, which offers comprehensive support and services to LGBTQ youth in foster care and their families.
Because they are trapped in an institution that isn’t ready to support them, LGBTQ youth in foster care are also twice as likely to end up homeless at some point in their lives, according to the Center’s RISE Training and Coaching Instructor Ariel Bustamante.
“Too many foster youth end up living on the street because they aged out of the foster care system,” Bustamante says. “When they turned 18, they were considered adults and the foster care system would no long take care of them. Imagine your parents kicking you out on your 18th birthday even if you weren’t ready to move out. That’s what foster youth often have to experience.”
RISE, launched in 2009 at the Center, aims to reduce the number of youth in long-term foster care and help them find permanent homes where they can be nurtured into adulthood. This doesn’t always result in removing them from their homes but can involve helping families to understand.
“We don’t want our young folks to experience isolation because someone isn’t either willing to or doesn’t know how to be there for them,” Canillas says. “Our hope is that they have someone who accepts them and affirms them fully for all aspects of their identity. That they have not only a place to go to in a time of need, but that they also have a place to go to when they want to celebrate. We want them to be able to thrive.”
One of the current ground-breaking efforts to help foster youth underway in California is Assembly Bill 2119, introduced by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, (D-San Diego). The new law would require the foster care system to connect transgender and gender nonconforming youth to life-saving and gender-affirming care when they ask for it, without changing existing parental consent requirements.
In support of the bill, members of the Center’s Resistance Squad, a volunteer-based rapid response team, have organized letter-writing campaigns, visited with legislators across southern California, and traveled to Sacramento to lobby for passage. AB 2119 passed the State Assembly on in May and will now be sent to the State Senate.
“LGBTQ foster youth who come through our doors every day tell us about the countless hurdles and biases they have to overcome in order to be recognized simply for who they are,” says the Center’s Policy and Mobilization Manager Joey Hernandez. “Young people should not have to wait years—or have to age out of the foster care system—to receive care that is medically necessary. Transgender and gender nonconforming young people have the right to live their authentic lives.”
For more information on the Center’s RISE initiative, visit lalgbtcenter.org/rise
Catch up with the Center’s Resistance Squad at lalgbtcenter.org/resistancesquad