The current Democratic trifecta in Washington creates a promising outlook for passing a groundbreaking anti-discrimination bill — the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act — aimed at helping LGBTQ+ couples be true members of the nation’s foster care system.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act’s first introduction. It was recently renamed after late Congressman John Lewis who led the bill for eight years. This week Family Equality, a national organization advocating in Congress for LGBTQ+ families, announced the reintroduction of the legislation in the 117th Congress.
At the moment, there are more than 437,000 children in America’s foster care system, with close to 120,000 in need of a permanent family to want them and then care for them, according to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children.
The new measure prohibits taxpayer-funded child welfare services from denying anyone the ability to adopt or foster based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or religion. It also enacts measures to protect LGBTQ+ identifying youth already in the foster care system who are often discriminated against and not given proper care.
When Lewis learned he had terminal cancer, he asked his friend Rep. Danny Davis of Illinois to take over leadership of the bill.
“Government has a unique responsibility to ensure that each and every child in foster care finds a loving, affirming family — not just the white ones, not just the Black ones, not just the Christian ones and not just the straight ones,” Davis said. “As one who grew up in the rural, segregated south, I know firsthand the profound detrimental effects of discrimination.”
With over 400,000 children in the foster care system and about 120,000 waiting to be adopted, barring same-sex couples from adopting children significantly reduces the ability to decrease these numbers. Only seven states currently have outlawed this discrimination entirely, while many southern states have conversely passed laws that make it legal for agencies to turn away couples on the basis of sex or religion.
Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig, a co-sponsor on the bill, is personally compelled to see this legislation passed after having her own anti-LGBTQ+ adoption discrimination case taken all the way to Tennessee’s Supreme Court.
“It was the most heartbreaking experience of my life every day for almost three years,” Craig said. “No parent should face discrimination when adopting or fostering a child, or be denied the opportunity to build a family just of who they love or how they identify.”
As the Senate sponsor on the bill, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she would tell kids currently in the system to hang in there and “with their resilience and with their strength, we will overcome those challenges.”
Allowing opportunities for more qualified and eager couples and individuals to welcome kids into their home could have a significant impact on reducing youth homelessness, too.
True Colors United is an organization seeking to combat youth homeless specifically among the LGBTQ+ community. Public Policy Director Dylan Waguespack noted that because LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than others, establishing meaningful relationships with supportive adults is crucial for kids in foster care.
“Simply put, our goal of ending youth homelessness in the United States will not be achievable without the key reforms advanced by the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” Waguespack said.
Gillibrand feels optimistic the bill will pass during this congress as it has more momentum than ever, with bipartisan support in the House, 20 senators and more than 175 child welfare, health, civil rights and faith groups backing it.
Still, even bipartisan bills have been known to die in this hyper-partisan Congress.