May is Foster Care Month and the LGBTQ community has a reason to be fearful but also a reason to be hopeful.
The reason to be fearful is a case before the U.S. Supreme Court which could limit the options of same-sex couples and queer adoptees in favor of religious freedoms. A decision may come as soon as June or be announced before the high court resumes its work Oct. 1.
The case is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, and it centers on Catholic Social Services (CSS), a child welfare agency suing the City of Philadelphia to receive taxpayer dollars for its services.
The crux of the matter is that CSS has refused to comply with the city’s nondiscrimination requirement to include adoptions by queer couples or individuals. CSS argues that it has a constitutional right to refuse prospective families based solely on religious beliefs. In other words, the agency wants the public funds but does not want to follow the established rules.
More than 30 child advocate organizations nationwide have filed amicus briefs in support of the queer community, including the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center and PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
In addition to the brief, the Bradbury-Sullivan center along with The Children’s Home of Reading, and the KingSpry law firm recently offered a virtual conversation on foster care and adoption for focused on queer families.
The free-to-view virtual discussion includes the legal aspects of open and closed adoptions, the process of working with different types of agencies, the impact of the Family First Prevention Services Act, and busts myths about who can be a foster parent or family.
A reason be hopeful regardless of the high court’s decision is a policy shift recently announced by Bethany Christian Services, the largest Christian adoption agency in the US. Last March the agency changed its longstanding policy to now include placement of children with LGBTQ parents for foster care and adoption across its operations in 32 states.
“Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on Foster, Bethany will now be a welcoming resource, Adrian Shanker, Executive Director, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, told the Capital-Star.”
A Google search identifies numerous Bethany agency locations in Pennsylvania.
Despite the pending SCOTUS case, “the landscape of parenting options for LGBTQ individuals and couples has grown considerably in recent years,” the panel’s moderator, Kimberly Levitt, who also serves as the Bradbury-Sullivan center’s health programs and supportive services manager, said.
“Foster parents and families play an important role in our community, and the virtual discussion provides reliable expert advice for those looking to adopt or foster children in the future,” Levitt continued.
Jill Troutman, of The Children’s Home of Reading, added that her organization always is “in need of responsible, caring individuals who want to provide a stable, safe home full of understanding. We have always been an inclusive agency, and we have foster families who are single, seniors, couples, LGBTQ, married, homeowners, and renters.”
About 25,000 children throughout Pennsylvania enter the foster care system annually, according to Troutman. Nationwide, about 135,000 children are adopted in the US each year. Some identify as LGBTQ.
And while “there was a pause at the onset of the pandemic, the courts have good procedures in place, and we are actually handling more adoptions than ever,” said Dorota Gasienica-Kozak, KingSpry’s chair of Adoption and Assisted Reproductive Technology Law.
To put a human face on fostering and adopting by the queer community, Capital-Star spoke to Hector, 29, and his partner Manuel, 31, who live in the south-central Pennsylvania. Laura McGinnis, 41, formerly from Jessup, Pa., and now PFLAG National Media Relations Manager, also contributed her experiences when she and her wife in separate proceedings adopted two biological brothers – but not without a court battle.
Hector, who asked not to use his last name so he could speak candidly, said the foster care to full adoption process often takes longer than the general public may realize. “It was a long process for us from start to finish. It took a bit more than three years and that included one year of foster care.”
He and his partner “went at it with great enthusiasm” but, Hector explained, “we kept bouncing out of the process. We realized because we were a same-sex couple we weren’t the ‘ideal’ parents sought by adoption agencies.” They came away “feeling hurt and rejected” but did not give up.
With help from Children’s Home of Reading, Hector says “We worked with Bucks County Children and Youth Services.”
The difference for Hector and Manuel is they finally connected with LGBTQ-affirming agencies. Today, the loving couple are parents two sons, 10 and 5, and a daughter, 7, who are related. When presented with the opportunity to adopt three siblings, Hector told the agency: “We have the love. We have the room. Let’s bring it!”
Similar to Bradbury-Sullivan center, PFLAG offered “PFLAG Parent Day: A Virtual Celebration of Parenting People,” which is available for free on Youtube after May 23.
“The event lifted up parents, grandparents, foster parents, adoptive parents, caregivers, and found family members who have provided love, support, and affirmation to their LGBTQ+ kids,” McGinnis said.
For McGinnis and her wife, the adoption process was eventually successful, but only after a legal challenge was decided in their favor. Their rocky road illustrates some of what couples go through during adoption proceedings.
McGinnis and her wife initially adopted a boy directly from a hospital following his birth. When his mother later gave birth to a second son, she was involved with an agency that did not honor queer adoptions. McGinnis dove into action.
Under the law, biologically-related siblings have the right to be adopted by the same family, even if at different times.
“We wanted to have the two boys together and we could both afford and endure the legal battle,” McGinnis told the Capital-Star.
The thicket of roadblocks encountered by Hector and Manuel and McGinnis and her wife could be pruned by the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDFA), which was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., during Congress’ last session. The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., sponsored the House version of the bill.
Although it has not yet been introduced during Congress’ current session, the act would prohibit any child welfare agency receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against any potential foster or adoptive family on the basis of religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
In addition, the legislation would prevent discrimination against any foster youth because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The act is necessary because some states bar LGBTQ individuals or same-sex couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents, and many public child welfare agencies still discriminate against qualified, licensed LGBTQ foster and adoptive families, McGinnis explained.
Opinion contributor Frank Pizzoli is the former editor and publisher of the Central Voice. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.