By Schylar Baber
Growing up in foster care, I learned a variety of different survival techniques. Not the important things, like how to prepare a meal, do my taxes or balance my checkbook. For the record, I didn’t learn any of that.
What I did learn, because my evangelical foster mother perceived that I was gay, was that I had a demon inside me, fighting for my soul. According to her, my sexuality was caused by demonic possession. Thanks to her medieval beliefs, I was forced into conversion therapy, also called “disciplining” by the evangelical church. During my 11 years in foster care, I was subjected to more abuse than during my first six years of life spent with my drug-addicted, physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive family.
Foster care has improved a little since the old days when foster children were forced into indentured servitude, but thanks to the Trump Administration, a culture war is being waged on the backs of one of America’s most vulnerable populations. Let me explain.
There is a crisis of uncared for children in our country. There are currently close to a half million children in the foster care system, with over 120,000 children waiting to be adopted and more than 20,000 youth “aging out” of care each year without any family or resources. Forty percent of these young people identify as LGBTQ. The American Association of Pediatrics warns that policies singling out or discriminating against LGBTQ youth “are harmful to social-emotional health and may have lifelong consequences.”
Despite these facts, the Administration supports discrimination against LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents as well as Jews, Catholics, Muslims and unmarried singles, by supporting federally funded faith-based child welfare agencies who reject anyone who is not evangelical Christian. The same cohort who told me I was possessed by a demon because I was gay have been deemed the only appropriate parents to foster and adopt children. There are currently 10 states with faith-based child welfare agencies that have requested and received waivers from the Administration to allow this discrimination based on their religion.
Our children need to be protected, not harmed, and they should be care for by loving parents regardless of orientation, religion or marital status. They should not be subjected to conversion therapy or forced to follow religious beliefs that are not their own.
A solution is on the table, should the U.S. Congress find it in their hearts and spines to stand up to the Trump Administration. This past month, legislation introduced by Representatives John Lewis (D-GA), Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) and Senator Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) would eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ individuals — both children and potential parents — thus making conversion and similar unproven techniques illegal forms of discrimination. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act would also allow foster and adoptive parents regardless of their marital status or religion to give children a home.
There are thousands of single unmarried people who want children. There are thousands more LGBTQ individuals who want to open their hearts and home to children in foster care. Importantly, LGTBQ people have been shown to have a significant interest in fostering and adopting youth who are older and harder to place.
After aging out of the foster care system and finally gaining control of my own life — things have changed for me. I’m strong now, and resilient. Looking back, the short-term safe haven known as foster care, which was intended to protect me, was the system that forced me to experience an incredible amount of abuse and neglect. As a civilized society, let’s do what we can to prevent childhood traumas like mine.
Ask your U.S. Representatives and Senators to cosponsor and pass the Every Child Deserves a Family Act — ask them to do what is in the best interest of children. We don’t have a minute to spare. Each minute that passes without action is wasted time for children who need a loving home and potential parents who want to have a family.
Schylar Baber is executive director of Voice for Adoption and a foster alum.