A core piece of CASA advocacy is making sure the youth we advocate for are, and feel, physically and emotionally safe. When we’re advocating for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ), this can take special care, attention and skill.
Here are the facts: LGBTQ youth are nearly three times more likely than their peers to enter the child welfare system—in part because coming out can lead to harassment, abuse and rejection by their families. Once they’re in foster care, they face all the same challenges other kids face, like trauma and grief, placement changes, falling behind in school and more. But they have an added layer to grapple with: the fear of further rejection, abuse and harassment by their caregivers if they are open about their identity.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. By accepting and celebrating these youth for who they are, and helping others to do the same, CASA volunteers can do more than just keep them safe—they can help them thrive. In this post, we focus on how CASA volunteers can prepare for conversations with parents, foster parents, kinship caregivers and others about their LGBTQ child, and help them move from a place of rejection to a place of acceptance.
First things first, make sure you have a working knowledge of the LGBTQ community and intersectionality.
Our deep dive on LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care is a great place to start! That will give you an introduction to LGBTQ youth, important statistics, the unique challenges they face in foster care, and the basics of informed and respectful advocacy.
Something else important to consider: approximately 57 percent of all kids in out-of-home care who identify as LGBTQ are children of color. Because of their multiple identities, these children face bias, discrimination and systemic inequality on multiple sides, making them even more vulnerable to negative outcomes. The word for this is intersectionality, and it’s a critical concept for advocates to understand. Watch this brief video about intersectionality to get started, and then consider diving deeper.
Understanding these issues will help you ensure your conversations with youth and families are coming from a place of understanding, support and respect.
Become familiar with common myths and misconceptions around the LGBTQ community so that you can refute them knowledgeably and confidently.
Though our society has come a long way, harmful misconceptions about what it means to be LGBTQ are still common.
- Being LGBTQ is not a phase or a choice, nor is it something that can be changed. According to research by the Family Acceptance Project, children report feelings of same sex attraction as young as age 7 or 9, and some children begin to express gender identity as early as age 2-3. Practices intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, often referred to as conversion therapy, are deeply harmful, and have been condemned by every major medical and mental health association.
- No one “causes” a youth’s LGBTQ identity. A youth’s sexual orientation and gender identity are not the result of anything their parents did, or didn’t do. It’s not the result of the friends they hang out with, or the adults in their lives, or the media they consume, or any childhood trauma they may have experienced. LGBTQ people come from all societies, circumstances, upbringings, religions and cultures, and have been documented all throughout history.
- Being LGBTQ does not impact a person’s ability to be spiritual or religious any more than being non-LGBTQ. There’s no question that many LGBTQ people have had non-affirming faith experiences. But this does not mean that they can’t be spiritual or religious—whether independently or within a welcoming faith community. For more information on the intersection of faith and LGBTQ identity, check out these faith resources from the Human Rights Campaign.
For more myths and misconceptions, along with sample responses, see this brief from the All Children-All Families program. We also recommend visiting the American Psychological Association’s webpages on sexual orientation and homosexuality and transgender people, gender identity and gender expression.
Help families understand the impact rejection can have.
According to extensive research by the Family Acceptance Project, LGBTQ young people who’ve experienced any level of rejection by their parents and caregivers are at a much higher risk of developing serious mental and physical health problems. Compared with LGBTQ young people who were not rejected or were only “a little” rejected by their parents and caregivers, highly rejected LGBTQ young people during the time of the research were:
- more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide;
- Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression;
- More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs; and
- More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.
The fact is, many parents and caregivers don’t fully understand the physical and emotional impact of non-accepting behavior. When faced with these eye-opening statistics, they may be more willing to learn and change.
Help families understand what accepting and rejecting behaviors look like.
Some behaviors are blatantly harmful, such as physical violence, harassment and disowning a child. Others, though, are less obvious—and sometimes even well-intentioned.
Examples of Behaviors to Avoid*:
- Hitting, slapping or physically hurting your child because of their identity
- Verbal harassment or name-calling because of your child’s identity
- Excluding youth from family events and family activities
- Blocking access to friends, events and resources
- Blaming your child when they are discriminated against because of their identity
- Pressuring your child to be more (or less) masculine or feminine
- Telling your child that God will punish them because they are gay
- Telling your child that you are ashamed of them or that how they look or act will shame the family
- Making your child keep their identity a secret in the family and not letting them talk about their identity with others
The good news is that research shows that even just a little change towards being more accepting for parents, foster parents, guardians and caregivers can dramatically reduce a young person’s risk for negative outcomes.
Examples of Behaviors that Help*:
- Talk with your child or foster child about their identity
- Express affection when your child tells you or when you learn that your child is LGBTQ
- Support your child’s identity even though you may feel uncomfortable
- Advocate for your child when they are mistreated because of their identity
- Require that other family members respect your child
- Bring your child to LGBTQ organizations or events
- Connect your child with an LGBTQ adult role model to show them options for the future
- Work to make your congregation supportive of LGBTQ members, or find a supportive faith community that welcomes your family and LGBTQ child
- Welcome your child’s LGBTQ friends and partner to your home and to family events and activities
- Support your child’s gender expression
- Believe your child can have a happy future as an LGBTQ adult
*Adapted from the Family Acceptance Project.
Connect families with resources and support.
Advocate for kin, families and foster families of LGBTQ youth to get support if they need it. Connect them to services and support, both locally and online. Here are a few to get you started.
PFLAG offers support groups for families and has 21 chapters in Texas.
The Family Acceptance Project website has a host of research and resources to help ethnically, socially, and religiously diverse families increase support for their LGBTQ children.
Childwelfare.gov has a resource listing for families of LGBTQ youth. They also have a guide specific to foster parents, Supporting Your LGBTQ Youth: A Guide for Foster Families.
Lastly, make sure the child knows you are on their side, whatever happens.
By providing a consistent, supportive and affirming adult presence, CASA volunteers can make a world of difference for LGBTQ youth. You can help ensure they have every opportunity to thrive and live a happy life—loved, celebrated, connected and proud of who they are!