Lambda Legal Urges Third Circuit to Uphold Ruling Protecting LGBTQ Foster Youth and Parents

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October 5, 2018

Yesterday, Lambda Legal submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of itself and nine local, state, and national organizations that serve LGBTQ youth urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a lower court ruling denying Catholic Social Services’s (“CSS”) request that Philadelphia be ordered to place children in CSS’s foster care program while allowing CSS to refuse to recruit and license same-sex couples seeking to foster children in need of loving homes.

CSS filed the lawsuit, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, after the City notified CSS that it could no longer violate the terms of its government contract and Philadelphia nondiscrimination law by refusing to license same-sex couples. Lambda Legal and its fellow amici alerted the Third Circuit about the serious harm to the wellbeing of LGBTQ youth in Philadelphia’s foster care system if government-funded providers were permitted to endorse the message that same-sex parents are not good parents and not equal under the law. Joining Lambda Legal are: The Gender & Sexuality Development Clinic at Children’s Hospital Philadelphia, The Mazzoni Center, Pennsylvania Youth Congress, Garden State Equality, The True Colors Fund, The LGBTQ Task Force, The Human Rights Campaign, The Trevor Project, and FosterClub. 

“By seeking out a license to discriminate against same-sex couples, CSS harms the very children it purports to serve,” said Currey Cook, Counsel and Youth in Out-Of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal. “Not only does discrimination severely limit the number of potential parents for children in need (particularly in light of recent findings that same-sex couples are more likely than different-sex couples to foster or adopt), it also sends the message to LGBTQ young people that they are “less than” their non-LGBTQ peers and that when they grow up and have families of their own, these families will not be given equal protection under the law.”

“Moreover, when LGBTQ young people, who are overrepresented in the child welfare system, frequently due to issues around rejection by their families of origin on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity, receive stigmatic messages from the child welfare providers tasked with their wellbeing that people like them are not “OK,” it causes significant harm,” Cook added.

The City of Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance includes a nondiscrimination provision which states that no “[p]roviders [shall] discriminate or permit discrimination against individuals in . . . public accommodation practices whether by direct or indirect practice of exclusion, distinction, restriction, segregation, limitation, refusal, denial, differentiation or preference in the treatment of a person on the basis of . . . sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, [or] familiar [sic] status[.]” In addition to enforcing City law and ensuring contractual compliance with an agency it funds, the City’s decision was consistent with its obligations under federal and state law and the U.S. Constitution to ensure the wellbeing of all children in its care, including LGBTQ youth.

As highlighted in the brief, years of empirical research shows that LGBTQ individuals suffer negative health outcomes—like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidality—when they are subjected to discrimination and stigma. Discrimination which is sanctioned or permitted by the government can be a literal matter of life or death for an LGBTQ young person: the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth which signed onto this brief, reports that they saw a significant spike in calls from transgender youth in crisis in the aftermath of President Trump’s August 2017 tweet announcing a ban on transgender service members and another spike when the administration walked backed federal protections for transgender students.

Lambda Legal and its partners will continue to fight against any attempt via court action or legislation to legitimize harm to LGBTQ youth and families or limit the number of homes available for children in need.

For more information on Lambda Legal’s advocacy around this issue, please visit the website for the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign. Lambda Legal is proud to be founding member of ECDF and co-chair of the ECDF state coalition with Family Equality Council.