What’s Best for Kids in Tennessee?

There are more than 443,000 children in the foster care system across the country and about 1,300 of those children live in Tennessee. For some of these children, foster homes are needed until they can return to their families. For others, adoption is the long-term goal.  And yet, there is a constant shortage of qualified families who step forward to welcome a foster or adoptive child in their homes.

Yet, lawmakers in Tennessee are currently considering legislation that would overlook the best interest of these children and instead allow state-contracted agencies to discriminate in choosing which families for placement. This legislation would harm the most vulnerable children in the state by limiting the families who could provide loving homes to them, simply because of who they are. Check out the Tennessee Equality Project for more information and ways to take action.

An ad, re-released and updated for 2019, from MAP, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), entitled “Kids Pay the Price,” vividly depicts the kinds of harms children can face when agencies and workers are allowed to prioritize their individual beliefs over the best interests of children. In the ad, a social worker is depicted saying she would rather keep a child in foster care than allow her to be adopted by a qualified gay or lesbian couple; a child placement worker says that her agency has strict beliefs, and if parents are Jewish, she shouldn’t have to place kids in those homes; and a placement worker says he shouldn’t have to place children in homes that don’t share his belief in “spare the rod, spoil the child.”

Tennessee isn’t alone in considering this type of action. Recent events have reached a crisis point, with an increasing number of states and even the federal government permitting taxpayer-funded discrimination at the expense of vulnerable children who need safe and loving homes.

Most recently:

  • In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted an exemption to the state of South Carolina to allow it to contract with agencies that refuse to consider families who do not meet a religious litmus test set by the agency. This waiver was precipitated by an agency that had turned away Jewish and Catholic perspective parents because they didn’t meet the agency’s Evangelical Christian standard.
  • Last year, three states passed legislation allowing agencies to discriminate.
  • A line item in the 2020 budget proposed by the Trump Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services states that the agency will allow child welfare programs to discriminate based on religious beliefs, following the issuance of the waiver to South Carolina’s Miracle Hill Ministries.

There is good news, however. Last month, the State of Michigan, in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of a lesbian couple turned away by state-contracted agencies, agreed to enforce nondiscrimination provisions in state child welfare contracts and to not permit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, and other characteristics. This brings the number of states that permit taxpayer-funded discrimination to eight (though two more states, Michigan and Alabama, permit discrimination by agencies that do not receive state contracts).

As Christine James-Brown, CEO and President of CWLA, explains at the end of the ad, “We have laws governing child services agencies for a reason,” James-Brown says in the ad. “When states allow adoption decisions to be based on a worker’s individual beliefs, rather than the best interests of children, it’s children who pay the price.”

 

Be An Ally! Support #SafeSchools for All Students!

This week is Ally Week, a student-led program where LGBTQ K- 12 students and educators lead the conversation on what they need from allies in school. This important week of dialogue and understanding is organized by our colleagues at GLSEN.

Every student deserves a fair chance to learn and thrive in school—including students who are transgender. However, according to the 2015 National School Climate Survey, 70% of transgender students said they avoided bathrooms because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

Last week, MAP and GLSEN released a new ad, “Hallway” showing how harmful it can be to force transgender students to use a separate restroom, putting them at risk of bullying and abuse. Transgender students, like all students, want a chance to learn, graduate, and make their families proud, without having to be scared every time they need to do something as basic as using the restroom.

That’s why GLSEN and MAP have launched the Safe Schools Movement campaign to encourage parents, educators, youth, and policymakers to advocate for safe schools for LGBTQ youth.

This Ally Week, there are plenty of ways to take action and support safe schools for all students:

  • WATCH AND SHARE: Watch the new Hallway ad and share it on social media using the #supportsafeschools hashtag.
  • READ MORE in the exclusive article in Teen Vogue.
  • TAKE ACTION: Join the Safe Schools Movement!
  • LEARN more about transgender students and their experiences in school in a new brief from MAP, GLSEN, and NCTE.
  • HAVE A CONVERSATION with your friends and family about supporting safe schools for transgender students. Check out the resources available at www.supportsafeschools.org
  • SUPPORT MORE ADS LIKE “HALLWAY”: Donate $25 to support MAP’s hard-hitting ads that are changing the national conversation about transgender students.

 

Support Safe Schools for Transgender Students

Imagine not being able to use the bathroom at school, or being called the wrong name by your teachers or principal. All too often, that’s what transgender students face in school, making it impossible for them to attend school safely.

A new ad, “Hallway” produced by MAP and released today in partnership with GLSEN shows how just how harmful it can be to force transgender students to use a separate restroom, putting them at risk of bullying and abuse.

Read more about “Hallway” and the Safe Schools Movement in this exclusive from Teen Vogue.

Everyone, including transgender students, cares about safety and privacy in restrooms and locker rooms. School districts across the country have successfully worked to ensure that transgender students have access to facilities that match their gender identity while still protecting the privacy of all students. However, only 14 states plus the District of Columbia have laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination in schools on the bases of gender identity and sexual orientation.

To fill in the gap in state laws, many school districts were turning to the federal government for protections. In 2014, the Obama administration issued official guidance clarifying that transgender students are protected from discrimination based on Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination. However, the Trump administration recently rescinded that guidance, signaling that transgender students cannot count on their federal government for support. And, in February of this year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced that they will no longer be investigating complaints of discrimination filed by transgender students.

According to a new brief released by today by MAP, GLSEN, and the National Center for Transgender Equality, more laws and policies are needed to ensure transgender students can fully participate in school.

Every student deserves a fair chance to learn and thrive in school—including students who are transgender. And our schools have a responsibility to protect all students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

MAP is teaming up with GLSEN, the leading education organization working to create safe and inclusive K-12 schools, to launch the Safe Schools Movement to advocate for safe schools for LGBTQ youth.

Join the Safe Schools Movement and take action today: www.glsen.org/safeschools

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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