Fighting to Protect Kids in Care

Imagine an adoption agency keeping a child in a group home despite having a qualified and loving relative willing to adopt them simply because that relative is gay. Now imagine a counselor refusing to offer therapy to a transgender teen in care. Or a child welfare turning away a loving, qualified Jewish couple because they are Jewish?

Sound alarmist? It happened in South Carolina and the governor responded by protecting the agency.

Now imagine that these agencies are receiving taxpayer dollars while continuing to discriminate against children and families. Across the country, seven states have passed discriminatory and harmful laws that allow adoption and foster care agencies to make decisions for children in their care based on religious beliefs rather than on the best interests of the child. These laws create a license to discriminate and allow agencies to flatly refuse to consider well-qualified prospective families for child placement—and still receive government funding.

Three states passed these laws last year, and we’ve seen several states consider this type of legislation in 2018. These laws can hurt kids. Laws like these mean:

  • An agency could refuse to place a child with qualified parents in a loving, forever home, simply because those parents are gay or lesbian.
  • An agency could refuse to allow an orphaned child to be adopted by an extended family member like a gay uncle or a lesbian grandparent.
  • An agency could refuse to place LGBT youth with accepting parents, but could instead place them with parents who intend to force them into harmful conversion therapy.
  • An agency could decide to keep a child in a government group home rather than place them with a loving, qualified couple who don’t share the agency’s religious beliefs.

In September 2017, MAP authored a report Kids Pay the Price: How Religious Exemptions for Child Welfare Agencies Harm Children which found that there are nearly 428,000 children in foster care in the United States, over 111,000 of whom are awaiting adoption. Of those children, 53% had been waiting more than two years for a permanent home. Yet adoption discrimination laws protect workers and agencies who reject LGBT and other qualified parents simply because those parents fail to meet the religious criteria imposed by the agency, forcing children to pay the price of discrimination.

Earlier this month, an adoption discrimination bill in Georgia was stalled, however, adoption discrimination bills in Kansas and Oklahoma continue to advance, and we’re watching these closely.

MAP is working with advocates on the ground to defeat these bills with ads, strategic, research-based messaging guidance and in-depth policy resources. For more information about MAP’s work to protect children from these dangerous bills, visit www.lgbtmap.org/adoption

Child welfare agencies should put kids first, always. But these kinds of harmful laws give child services workers a license to discriminate and deny children the loving, forever homes they need.

Advocate Opinion: “Tell the Supreme Court That Businesses Must Be ‘Open to All’”

Today, the Advocate published a new opinion piece, “Tell the Supreme Court That Businesses Must Be ‘Open To All,’” marking the start of Open to All Week. In the article, MAP executive director Ineke Mushovic outlined the incredibly high stakes of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and described how the court has heard these arguments before.

March 12—18, Open to All Week, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the landmark case, Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises. Piggie Park, a small barbeque chain, which is still open today, wanted the right to refuse service to African American customers. The owner, a segregationist, claimed that the Civil Rights Act violated his religious freedom.

The Supreme Court disagreed in a decision issued on March 18, 1968.

Piggie Park wasn’t just about barbeque. And Masterpiece isn’t just about cake.

Now the nation awaits a decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the owner of a bakery is claiming that the state’s nondiscrimination law, which requires him to serve same-sex couples, unconstitutionally violates his religious beliefs.

In the opinion piece, Mushovic warns how a win for the bakery in Masterpiece threatens the historic legacy of the Piggie Park decision and could take us back to a shameful era in our nation’s history, an era where businesses could claim a right to discriminate as they see fit.

Click here to read the opinion piece in the Advocate.

Title IX Still Protects Transgender Students, Even if DeVos Won’t

Earlier this month, the Trump Administration targeted transgender students again. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the Department of Education is no longer accepting or investigating complaints from transgender students who are denied access to the bathrooms and facilities that match their gender identity. Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act protects all students from discrimination based on sex, and denying transgender students access to facilities because of their gender identity is discrimination based on sex.

This announcement came almost a year to the day after the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind Obama-era guidance that clarified that Title IX protections include protections for transgender students.

So, what is Title IX and who does it protect, exactly?

As shown in our updated infographic, Title IX is part of the federal Civil Rights Act, and it ensures that students must be afforded the same dignity, protection, and opportunity under the law regardless of their race or ethnicity, national origin, religion, or sex.

More recently, in 2016 under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice explicitly stated that Title IX protections include protections for transgender students.

Yet, just days after assuming her role as President Trump’s Secretary of Education, Secretary DeVos rescinded that guidance, leaving students vulnerable to discrimination and harassment. This month’s announcement that the Department of Education won’t investigate claims filed by transgender students confirms yet again that President Trump and Secretary DeVos have endorsed the belief that transgender students are less deserving of protection than their peers.

This is particularly disturbing given the extensive bullying, violence, and discrimination faced by transgender students, as shown in MAP’s infographic. According to the 2015 National School Climate Survey, fully 75% of transgender students say they feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression, and 70% say they have avoided using school bathrooms as a result. By refusing to protect transgender students’ rights to use the bathroom – something we all have to do every day – Secretary DeVos and the Trump Administration are perpetuating the bullying, violence, and unsafe environment that ultimately deny transgender students their right to an education.

Despite Secretary DeVos’ announcement, schools around the country continue to have a legal obligation to protect transgender students’ rights, including the right to use bathrooms and facilities that match their gender identity. And the courts agree.

Our infographic shows that both the Sixth and Seventh Circuits have already ruled that Title IX’s protections include transgender students. Thanks to the hard work of our friends at the Transgender Law Center and the courageous efforts of a transgender student named Ash Whitaker, the Seventh Circuit’s unanimously found that transgender students are protected not only by Title IX, but by the U.S. Constitution itself.

More cases are also working their way through courts around the country, similarly defending the rights of transgender students under Title IX and the Constitution.

The Department of Education says its mission is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” Whether or not President Trump or Secretary DeVos choose to uphold this mission, the law still protects transgender students and their rights to equal access and education.

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