AB 1856 Passes the California Senate Human Services Committee
Out-of-home youth, the term of art for those youth housed through social services, are already a vulnerable population. Multiplying that vulnerability for many is the pernicious problem of ignorance and inattentiveness to issues around sexual orientation and gender expression. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth comprise 20 to 40 percent of the homeless youth population according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (data on total homeless population are notoriously hard to collect), the Open Doors Project reports that 30 percent of LGBT youth experienced violence from their families after coming out, and (again from the NGLTF) 26 percent of LGBT youth are thrown out of their homes after coming out. Of the approximately 42,500 youth in the California foster care system, between 5 and 10 percent identify as LGBT.
In a study of New York’s foster care system: 100 percent of LGBT youth reported verbal harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity; 70 percent reported physical violence due to their orientation or identity; 78 percent were removed at least once from foster placements due to hostility toward their gender identity or sexual orientation; 56 percent of them spent time living on the streets because they felt “safer” than in their group or foster home.
In a national study of social work students, educators and practitioners, while 79 percent reported sexual orientation non-discrimination policies, only 39 percent had similar policies for gender expression.
By requiring culturally competent foster care for LGBT youth, an extremely at-risk population gains a measure of stability and sensitivity that can ameliorate anxiety, depression, drug abuse, homelessness and self-harm. That’s what AB 1856 does — it adds LGBT cultural competency to the courses that out-of-home youth care providers (foster parents, group home staff and administrators, etc.) already take. This helps in two ways: First, it reinforces the non-discriminatory principle in foster care that Equality California fought for in 2003 with the Foster Youth Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination against both youth and caregivers for sexual orientation and gender identity. Secondly, it recognizes that much of the discrimination and insensitivity toward LGBT foster youth comes not from direct animus, but from a lack of knowledge and awareness of how sexual orientation and gender identity impact the lives of the youth being served.
By updating California’s lessons for foster parents and other care providers, we give them the tools they need to support their mission and support the youth in their care.
Yesterday, AB 1856 made it through the California Senate Human Services committee by a vote of 4 to 2.
You can help make this law a reality by telling your story about being LGBT in foster care or by contacting your state senator and letting them know that you support AB 1856.