Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth in foster care need the same stability and security from a loving family as their straight and cisgender peers. In addition, they may have needs particular to their identities of which their foster parents should be aware, even if their foster parents are themselves LGBTQ or otherwise familiar with LGBTQ issues. Here are some points to consider in parenting LGBTQ youth:
LGBTQ kids in foster care face heightened risks for homelessness, involvement in the juvenile justice system, poor educational outcomes, suicide, and sexual abuse. Life can be complicated and difficult for most kids in care; it can be more complicated and difficult for foster youth who are not straight or cisgender.
Safety issues are a priority. Your foster child may have ended up in care because it was unsafe to be out in their home. They may also face harassment and bullying in school and in the community at large. Do what you can to make your home a very safe place. Be openly accepting of their sexual orientation and gender identity, which includes listening to how they describe themselves and respecting their preferred terminology. Make your home a “safe zone” in which they are free to be their real selves. Insist that they are treated with respect and acceptance by family members and others in your environment. Be prepared to advocate for them in school and the community.
Understand that coming out is a process, not a single event. Take cues from your foster child about how they want to handle their personal information, and understand that it is their decision to tell others about being LGBTQ. This means that you should try to avoid “outing” them to others without their knowledge and permission, even if your intentions for doing so are good. At the same time, be sensitive to potential issues of shame around coming out. Be aware of pressuring them to hide who they are for other people’s comfort, even if you are only trying to make things easier for them. Be an adult who models acceptance of who they are by following their lead.
Make sure that your home environment is truly LGBTQ friendly. Don’t tolerate inappropriate language. Make it clear that anti-LGBTQ slurs or jokes are not acceptable in your home. Speak up when you encounter such behavior in the community.
Ensure that your actions as a parent of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer youth are consistent with your words. Avoid double standards: LGBTQ kids are as entitled as their straight and cisgender peers to the ups and downs of teenage romance, including the right to be open about their relationships. Don’t try to steer your foster youth of any identity towards gender stereotyped interests and activities if they are not interested in them. Be sensitive to the way that this kind of pressure may be constant for LGBTQ youth, and that it is often present in unintentional reactions and body language from adults.
Take on the responsibility of becoming a well-informed foster parent of a LGBTQ youth. Seek out the support of other parents who are working to a provide safe, loving home for their LBGTQ child. Educate yourself about LGBTQ history and issues. Learn about the challenges your child will face as they go out into the world. Work to provide a loving environment in which diversity is celebrated in all of its forms.
Encourage others, including your LGBTQ friends, to consider foster parenting. Providing a safe, loving and accepting home can make tremendous difference in the life of a youth who just happens to be LGBTQ.
by Diane Kindler, MSW, LICSW