June 08, 2021

Gillibrand Leads Bipartisan And Bicameral Bill To End LGBTQ+ And Religious Discrimination In The Child Welfare System

Approximately 122,000 Children in Foster Care System Waiting for a Home, But Discriminatory Laws are Keeping Them From Caring Families Wanting to Foster or Adopt, Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Marital Status and Religion; In New York State, More Than 3 In 4 LGBTQ+ Youth Ran Away Or Were Removed From Their Foster Homes

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, alongside U.S. Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL-7), Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR), Angie Craig (D-MN-2) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18), is leading the bipartisan and bicameral John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act. This bill would prohibit discrimination against prospective foster or adoptive parents, and children and youth in the foster care system on the basis of religion, marital status, gender identity, or sexual orientation, and would bar harmful practices, like conversion therapy. Additionally, the bill would improve services to LGBTQ+ and religious minority youth, and would establish a National Resource Center for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.  

"There are hundreds of thousands of children in foster care right now and they deserve the chance to be raised by loving and caring parents. Unfortunately, many families who are ready, willing, and waiting to bring these children into their homes have been blocked from doing so by organizations that discriminate against prospective foster and adoptive parents based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or religion,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am proud to be the Senate sponsor of the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act, and I will continue fighting for this important legislation that will create a system that supports the best interests of children, and foster and adoptive parents, and will ensure more access to loving, safe, and supportive environments for children in need.”

“Children in foster care are among the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL-7). “And government has a unique responsibility to ensure that each and every child in foster care finds a loving, affirming family. Not just the white ones. Not just the Christian ones. And not just the straight ones. The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act promotes the best interests of children by increasing the number of foster and adoptive homes available to all children in foster care and improving services to LGBTQ and religious-minority children. As one who grew up in the segregated south, I understand first-hand the profoundly detrimental effects of discrimination.  I am proud to join with my colleagues to champion this bill to protect foster youth and families from discrimination based on religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.”

“Throughout my time as a public servant, I have tirelessly worked to shape a better and more just adoption policy that promotes the best interests of those who are affected the most, the children,” said Rep. Jenniffer González Colón (R-PR). “According to the latest data, almost 443,000 youth are in foster care in the U.S. of which 4,539 reside in Puerto Rico. This legislation would break another barrier in the adoption process by increasing the chances of these children to be placed into a loving and permanent home. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill, and I thank Rep. Danny Davis for leading it as we rename this bill to honor the life of our late friend and colleague, Congressman John Lewis, who continues to inspire us to create a better and more inclusive America. As a champion for equal treatment Congressman Lewis was forward thinking and a role model to us all.”

“As an LGBTQ adoptive parent and a proud mother to four boys, I am painfully aware of the widespread discrimination that exists in the adoption and foster care system in this country,” said Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN-2). “No state should allow discrimination against LGBTQ foster children or adoptive parents who can provide a safe and loving home. I’m proud to help carry on John Lewis’ legacy by joining my colleagues in introducing legislation to ensure that LGBTQ adoptive parents and children are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve in our foster care system.”

“Family Equality thanks Congressman Danny Davis for his leadership and applauds this critical piece of legislation, which will change the lives of so many LGBTQ+ youth and families,” said Stacey Stevenson, CEO of Family Equality. “There are 400,000 youth in foster care and hundreds of loving families who want to open their homes to these young people but who are turned away. Discrimination against qualified prospective parents that deprives children of loving homes breaks the cardinal rule of child welfare:  that agencies must act in the best interests of the child. As the late Representative John Lewis said when he first championed the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, ‘This bill is the right thing to do, and quite frankly, it is long overdue.’”

“A large majority of Americans oppose allowing discrimination in taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care,” said Julie Kruse, Director of Federal Policy of Family Equality. “It is time that Congress listens to the will of the American people and eliminates discrimination in our nation’s child welfare system once and for all.  This discrimination must end.”

“Sadly, children who experience foster care have experienced trauma. The last thing they need is to be placed in a home that doesn’t affirm them for who they are or that is improperly trained to support their wellbeing, inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. PFLAGers understand this. We strive to help families develop the skills to love and affirm their LGBTQ+ loved ones while honoring their faith traditions, too,” said Diego M. Sanchez, APR, Director of Advocacy, Policy and Partnerships for PFLAG National. “This is why PFLAG National supports the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act of 2021. The rights and dignity of every child and every family involved in the foster care system should be protected everywhere.”

“As a foster and adoptive parent who is a bisexual woman married to another woman, I am keenly aware of how the lack of federal protections in foster care affects families like mine,” said Laura McGinnis, a staff member of PFLAG National and member Family Equality’s National Network. “Anti-LGBTQ bias of the local child welfare agency meant our oldest child’s infant sibling was initially placed with a non-affirming family who intended no contact. To preserve the rights of these siblings to grow up together, we had to fight in court, something most families can’t do. The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act of 2021 would set a clear national standard to prevent discrimination that harms children and birth families who experience foster care.”

“Simply put, we have more children in foster care that we have beds to place them in,” says Schylar Baber, Executive Director of Voice for Adoption. “We need every viable family we can get. There is no time to waste. We must end discrimination to ensure that every child in foster care finds a permanent place to call home.” 

“The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act of 2021 is a critical tool for preventing homelessness and housing insecurity among LGBTQ+ youth and young adults,” said Gregory Lewis, executive director and CEO of True Colors United. “Young people with lived experience of homelessness frequently identify ending discrimination in foster care as one of their top priorities. It’s time for us to listen to them and to take real action to prevent youth homelessness by ensuring that LGBTQ+ youth in foster care are treated with dignity and respect.”

“NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice applauds the introduction of the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act and urges Congress to swiftly pass this necessary legislation into law. As a person of faith, I know that every person is made in the image and likeness of God,” said Mary J. Novak, executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. “Children and families who are part of our child welfare system must have their intrinsic dignity recognized in every aspect. Ending discrimination is a moral imperative and critical to protecting the dignity and wellbeing of our families, friends, and neighbors. It is an injustice to deny children and prospective parents the opportunity to create a loving home together because of who they are or who they love. Our faith teaches us that the family can show society how to better care for all of its members. Discrimination has no place in our communities and neighborhoods, especially when it keeps children from thriving. This legislation is a fitting way to honor Congressman John Lewis’ vision of a country that cares for and supports all people and families. Congress must place this legislation on President Biden’s desk.”

“As Jews, we often pray for a sukkot shalom – a shelter of peace – to be spread over us and all the world so that no one has to live in fear,” said Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Washington Director of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action. “Each one of the over 400,000 children and teens in foster care deserve a loving and caring home, and we must make it easier for them to find that peace by ending discrimination in the foster care system.”

There are nearly 425,000 children in the foster care system, and more than 122,000 children waiting for a permanent family. This bipartisan legislation is designed to increase the number of homes available to all children in foster care and to improve services to LGBTQ+ and religious minority youth. Approximately 28% of homeless youth with a foster care history identify as LGBTQ+ and are more likely to experience adverse events, such as being physically harmed or stigmatized, compared to peers with no foster care history. In New York, studies show that more than 3 in 4 LGBTQ+ youth ran away or were removed from foster homes because of the hostilities they faced, and more than half felt safer living on the street. This legislation would put an end to discriminatory policies and create a system that supports the best interests of children and foster and adoptive parents alike.

Specifically, the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act would:

  • Prohibit organizations receiving federal funding from discriminating against children, youth, families, and individuals on the basis of religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and marital status in the administration and provision of child welfare services.
  • Ban conversion therapy for children participating in child welfare programs receiving federal funding.
  • Promote safety, well-being, and permanency for LGBTQ+ children in foster care.
  • Requires data collection on LGBTQ+ youth and families so we can better monitor these trends and issues, and it would establish a dedicated National Resource Center for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. 

The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act is endorsed by 175 supporting organizations.

This bill is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).