This Pride Month, an Open Letter and Call to Action
To our LGBTQ+ Community, Catholic Charities West Michigan, and Kent County’s Foster Care and Adoption Agencies
The YWCA West Central Michigan is, at its heart, a social justice movement – a movement enriched by 120 years of history in our community. Although today the YWCA is secular, our founders were women representing congregations from throughout Grand Rapids. Their personal commitments to the “betterment of women and girls” were rooted in a sense of responsibility to those in need and a belief in the inherent dignity of each person. These same women, for no reason save their gender, were denied – both legally and culturally – equal respect and equal participation in society.
Generations later, those values and experiences inform who we are. Today, they compel us to reach out to our valued partners: Catholic Charities West Michigan, our LGBTQ+ friends, and Kent County’s foster care and adoption agencies. We do so in the spirit of shared values, connection, and experience, and against two different backdrops – the case of Catholic Charities West Michigan v. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Pride Month.
We appreciate the work of our long-time partner, Catholic Charities West Michigan, whose values align so closely with many of our own. For hundreds of people, our cooperation has allowed the door of one agency to become the gateway to the other. In kinship, we have helped the most vulnerable in our community to heal.
This month we celebrate our local LGBTQ+ community, with whom we stand in resolute solidarity. In many ways your path is similar to our own, characterized by an unyielding demand that the law and society recognize our equal standing and human worth. Yet the fight continues. We are honored to serve as a partner and ally, offering healing when sexual or domestic violence touches LGBTQ+ lives.
Debating the merits of the arguments that are part of CCWM v. MDHHS1 is rightly the purview of the Plaintiff, Defendants, their attorneys, and the courts, so we will not weigh in deeply. However, we will state without hesitation that the assumptions that underpin the rationale for the lawsuit – that the loving connection between two people who are LGBTQ+ and legally married is invalid and an inappropriate environment for children – are hurtful and dangerous. Further, we are alarmed by the message the lawsuit and such ideas send to LGBTQ+ youth in foster care themselves.
That said, the larger purpose of our statement is to shine a light on what appears to have been missed by too many.
Courtrooms are where we find resolutions, not solutions.
Because more than 20 percent of the caseload for the YWCA’s counseling services involves children in foster care, we look at this legal showdown with particular dismay. These children and those who await adoption need solutions that find them loving families.
The problem they face is the extraordinary absence of caring adults willing to open their homes, not a challenge to their civil liberties or religious freedom. This is especially true for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care for whom the loss of family is often inextricably tied to a fundamental rejection of who they are.
Approximately 14,000 of Michigan’s children are in foster care, with about 3,000 up for adoption.2 “In Kent County, approximately 30 children and youth are placed in foster care each month – [with] more than 800 children [in foster care] at any given time.”3
LGBTQ+ youth represent between 19 and 34 percent of children in the child welfare system, although only 4 to 10 percent of the total U.S. population identify as such. The heartbreaking reality is that up to 43 percent of LGBTQ+ youth experience rejection, neglect, and/or physical violence by their families of origin when their sexual orientation or gender identity is learned. Once in foster care, one study found that a caregiver’s hostility about the identity of their foster child prompted 78 percent of LGBTQ+ youth to run away or be removed from the home.4
Ample evidence shows that LGBTQ+ adults are a strong, significant, and uniquely valuable pool of prospective parents. “Same-sex couples raising children are seven times more likely to be raising a foster child…[or]adopted child than their different sex counterparts. They are also more likely to adopt older children and children with special needs, who are statistically less likely to be adopted…”5
It is difficult to overemphasize the need LGBTQ+ children face – protection from abuse and neglect that is not only connected to their environment, but often to their very being. At a time when the number of licensed Michigan foster homes is decreasing overall – 14 percent between 2012 and 20165 – the lawsuit has further intensified the urgency with which the number of prospective parents must increase. It is heartening to know that plans to do so, with greater intentional and strategic focus on growing the number of parents from traditionally less represented communities, is underway collaboratively among all of Kent County’s foster care and adoption agencies.
“LGB individuals or same-sex couples in Michigan” are already raising more than 3,700 foster and adopted children. However, projections show “35,000 LGB adults in Michigan may be potential adoptive parents.”6
So much more can be done.
What happens inside a courtroom is consequential, but it is an adversarial space by nature. Inside the courtroom we take sides. Outside we can take a seat at the same table.
We ask that the LGBTQ+ community and Kent County’s foster care and adoption service agencies come together immediately.
Amplify the work that has begun and devise new solutions to increase the number of loving homes available to children. These solutions must also include ensuring non-LGBTQ+ families are thoroughly evaluated for LGBTQ+ bias and sensitivity. Parents should be well-equipped with a robust array of quality resources that aid them in providing for the needs of their LGBTQ+ children, and the children should be similarly connected to ongoing LGBTQ+ supports.
Our community is looking to you for active and visible leadership.
More importantly, LGBTQ+ children – in desperate need of loving and understanding families – are looking to you. You are the adults they will become and the caretakers who hold their hands today. There are no two groups more closely connected or more personally responsible to these children than you.
Resources for Prospective Parents
For foster care:
West Michigan Partnership for Children
- Catholic Charities West Michigan v. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Verified Complaint and Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief, Page 19.
- AdoptUSKids: Michigan foster care and adoption guidelines
- Foster Focus: New Player on the Scene in Michigan
- gov: Youth Topics – LGBT
- Center for American Progress: Welcoming All Families
- The Williams Institute: UCLA School of Law; Memo, Children and Families Impacted and the Fiscal Implications of Michigan HB 4188, 4189, and 4190