When I was in third grade, my parents made the decision to become foster parents. Over the course of the next fifteen years, over thirty children came in and out of our home, some young, some older, some with painful pasts, and some who would become my best childhood friends. I got used to the idea of having these temporary friends. They were my siblings, yes, but I was conditioned to say goodbye and not feel anything. It was easier said than done, obviously, but it always happened—a friend would come and stay, and after a time, they would leave. I never knew what happened to them after they left, but their time spent in our family’s home was a memorable time for me. Before I even knew what the word “gay” meant, and what that word would soon mean to me, a friend came out to me. My first foster sibling came out to me when I was nine and he was eleven. He told me his first foster mom didn’t like it, and that’s why they moved him. He didn’t want to disclose his sexual orientation to his social worker, attorney, or anyone else for fear of rejection, so looking back I think the whole allyship within the foster care system was rather lacking.
So what, you’re probably asking, does this have anything to do with LGBTQ issues in our society? In the foster care system, children have few resources—foster parents, lawyers, social workers, and teachers. But how will you know if those limited resources will be okay with a developing identity? I read an article a while back talking about this program called The Opening Door Project. It’s a project that works to send out attorneys, social workers, teachers, etc. to different parts of the United States to educate others on being an ally to LGBTQ youth in the foster care system. So what’s it like growing up LGBTQ nowadays?
- · 90% of LGBTQ students hear anti-LGBTQ comments in school (on average, 26 slurs per day)
- · 28% of students drop out of school because of this sort of harassment.
- · 84% of LGBTQ youth report verbal harassment at school because of their gender identity and/or gender expression.
- · 25-40% of the youth who become homeless are LGBTQ.
Also, shout out to GLSEN and Lambda Legal for those stats.
I believe it’s necessary and crucial to have programs such as the Opening Door Project implemented across the nation because allies are so so important during the coming out process, and when you’re moving from home to home, and you don’t know who in your life will stay or go, allies are everything. When reviewing data regarding this project’s purpose, the responses of judges were the most shocking for me. Overarching themes included “judges perceiving LGBTQ statuses as somewhat important in respect to safety”, “judges perceive no specific placement issues for LGBTQ youth”, and others. I feel that these deductions result in faulty placement of queer youths in environments that may be detrimental to their physical and mental health.
Moral of the story: It’s a tough, tough world out there for queer kids, y’all.
For more information on this project and initiatives like it, please check out http://www.thekidsarelistening.org/ .