On March 26, 2019, Texas CASA hosted a powerful and enlightening conversation with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) clergy members and LGBTQ-affirming congregations as part of our Clergy, CASA and Community initiative.
As you may know, over the past year, Texas CASA has been hosting discussions with CASA programs, CPS representatives and faith leaders from all across the state to better understand how we can engage faith communities to partner with CASA in recruiting more volunteers to advocate for children in foster care.
“You might be wondering: why the specific focus on LGBTQ and LGBTQ-affirming congregations?” said Texas CASA Recruitment and Retention Officer Dennise Jackson. “Youth in foster care have the odds against them in a number of ways, but LGBTQ youth in care face unique challenges and need targeted support from welcoming individuals who understand them and respect their identity.”
LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, both in Texas and nationwide. In fact, according to a recent study, 30.4% of youth in care identify as LGBTQ, compared to 11.2% of the general youth population. This disparity is due in large part to the fact that for children, coming out to family members can lead to verbal and physical harassment, abuse and even full-on rejection, making them more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to experience homelessness and/or end up in foster care.
Once they are in care, these youth face all the same challenges and barriers their non-LGBTQ peers face, such as dealing with trauma, placement changes, falling behind in school, mental health challenges and more – but with the added layer of fear of further rejection, abuse and harassment if they are open about their LGBTQ identity. For these reasons and more, it is crucial that CASA and all others who serve these children are ready and willing to help meet their unique needs and keep them safe.
At the meeting, clergy shared the history and governance of their church, their history with other ministries outside of the church and lessons learned, and what they wanted visitors to understand about their church, particularly as it pertains to being welcoming and inclusive. Meeting attendees also had small group discussions, answering questions such as: How can we effectively answer the call to serve LGBTQ youth in foster care? What are the barriers to your church’s involvement? What are the barriers to CASA being LGBTQ affirming?
“We had great, productive discussions at this meeting, and everyone was engaged,” said Jackson. “But what I took away, most of all, is that there is still a lot of work to be done, both within Texas CASA and the CASA community, on our journey to engage the LGBTQ community and best serve LGBTQ youth in foster care.”
Jackson then went into a couple key takeaways from the meeting.
Takeaway #1: When it comes to “making the ask,” we must be mindful of the historical marginalization of the LGBTQ population. Texas CASA, like all the other CASA programs in Texas, is on an ongoing journey to be open, affirming and welcoming for all, Jackson said. Part of that journey is ensuring a diverse group is at the “table” when it comes to the Clergy, CASA and Community initiative as well as the other work we do. However, like we learned during our meeting with black pastors last November, that’s easier said than done.
“This meeting was about inviting LGBTQ and affirming clergy to the table,” Jackson said. “But throughout the day, what we started to remember is that, for minority populations, too often there hasn’t historically been a table there for them in the first place. We came with the idea to invite LGBTQ folks to the table, but started to realize what we’re really doing is inviting them to help us build a better table.”
Takeaway #2: When speaking with faith communities, it is also important for CASA to acknowledge the good work churches are already doing, and match CASA’s mission with the current programs. It was clear that the clergy in the room felt that their ministry was already helping their community in the best ways, said Jackson – for example, many are already reaching out to help those in poverty and those experiencing homelessness. When CASA comes in to do a presentation, they can feel as though CASA is asking them to “add on” to the work they already do.
When, however, Jackson and the other CASA representatives opened the clergy members’ eyes to the realities of the foster care system and helped them see how the work of CASA aligns and intersects with their current ministries – serving the most vulnerable – a shift happened in the room.
The information gleaned from this meeting will be invaluable for Texas CASA and the CASA community as we work to better serve and protect LGBTQ children in the foster care system – work that is key to achieving our vision of a safe, positive future for all Texas children. Thank you to all who joined us!
What’s on the horizon for Clergy, CASA and Community? Texas CASA has created an advisory council that will help us refine our message and create a pastor ambassador program. The first meeting will be in May.
“We look forward to taking what we’ve learned from these discovery meetings and using it to make a difference for the children and families CASA serves,” said Jackson. “The advisory council is full of passionate and diverse people who are eager to get into the work that we’ve been talking about for a year now.”
Check out this recent KXAN article for more information on Texas CASA’s work with LGBTQ and LGBTQ-affirming congregations.