Imagine being a gay or trans teen in foster care in a state that’s currently debating whether same-sex couples can adopt children. You’re 15, bullied in your new high school for being LGBT, and you’re hearing politicians say that gay parents are unfit to adopt children.
That’s exactly what’s happening in Florida, where on any given day there are some 8,000 children in foster care.
On Monday, the Florida state senate sent the governor a bill that would get rid of an outdated and unenforceable law that banned gay Floridians from adopting children—a district judge ruled the law unconstitutional in 2010 but the state has kept it in the books for symbolic reasons.
But another bill that would allow certain child placement agencies to deny services to same-sex couples in the name of religious beliefs is still up in the air.
“They used a shield of religious freedom, but really it was an anti-gay bill, and that sets a precedent that says gay youth don’t matter,” Anthony Nadeau, 19, told Fusion in a telephone interview last week. Nadeau, who is a foster care alumni, entered the system in Florida in 2006.
LGBT youth are overrepresented in foster care, and experts believe the main funnel is family rejection.
One of the most comprehensive studies on foster care youth in the U.S. surveyed children in L.A. County. About 19 percent of foster youth identified as LGBTQ—13.4% LGB or questioning and 5.6% transgender, according to the UCLA’s Williams Institute, a think tank that studies the intersection of sexual orientation, gender identity and public policy.
“That’s as much as twice the estimated percentage of youth not in foster care who are LGBTQ,” read the report.
“It’s creepy to me that my sexuality and gender identity would be the only reason that someone would say that I’m not a good parent. It’s very unfair to say that,” Ashley Hunter, 23, told Fusion.
“It’s kind of telling [young LGBT people] that who they are is not OK and that’s not good for any kid, especially for someone going through all of the added things foster care kids are going through,” said Hunter, who is a foster care alumni who identifies as transexual. She entered the foster care system in Florida when she was nine years old.
Within three months of placement, many children exhibit signs of depression, aggression, or withdrawal, according to a 2004 Princeton study. Foster care children can also see their grades drop as they often have to deal with changeable environments.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who announced Monday he’s running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, made anti-gay adoption comments in 2006.
"Some of these [foster care] kids are the most disadvantaged in the state," said Rubio, according to the The Tallahassee Democrat. "They shouldn't be forced to be part of a social experiment," he said in regards to letting same-sex couples adopt.
“To think that you may well be served by agency that is saying LGBT people aren’t like other people, or as good as other people, or can’t be as good a parent as other people, it really helps fuel internalized [messages that say] ‘I’m not worthy, I’m not a good person, I’m not like other people,’” explained Currey Cook, director of the Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project at Lambda Legal, nation's oldest legal organization representing the interest of the LGBT community.
Those feelings of not being worthy are unfortunately the very same thoughts that lead to disproportionate rates of suicide amongst LGBT youth.
“This is causing kids to wonder if they’re safe. Foster care is scary enough, but to think that you might be unsafe in the very environment that’s suppose to be protecting you is a really awful place to be,” said Cook.
“Who will really bear the brunt of this are the kids who might be matched with a family who perfectly suits them and by all professional child welfare standards is a good home,” said Michelle Richardson, public policy director for the ACLU of Florida.
The 2015 legislative session in Florida ends at the end of the month in 16 days. It’s possible the child placement agency bill won’t go anywhere.
“I’m afraid to declare victory because I know we’re running out of time but these can come out of nowhere when you least expect it. We all have to keep up the pressure because these things can move quickly,” Richardson told Fusion in an interview last week.
“My colleague put it the right way, saying, ‘Florida dislikes gays so much they’re willing to take it out on the kids, and in a way this is worse than the Indiana discrimination bill because it’s not adults vs. adults, it’s kids who are sitting in the system who are going to lose out on a home.”
Due to a transcription error, an earlier version of this article stated that Ashley Hunter identifies as transexual. She identifies as pansexual.