Kenneth and Kenny: The ‘safety net’ fails two homeless gay teens

What are the Odds?
Pretty high actually…

Last weekend I stumbled upon this article, Queer and Loathing: Does the Foster Care System Bully Gay Kids?  The article tracks the history of a young gay boy named Kenneth Jones who lives in Washington, D.C.   Kenneth was kicked out of his family years ago because of his sexuality and gender expression.  Kenneth’s gender expression was not seen as manly enough starting at a very young age.  It is a sad story of years of homophobic and gendered abuse directed at Kenneth first from extended family members and then within the foster system. Embedded within the story are a wealth of disturbing facts about the anti-gay bias LGBTQ children experience in the foster care system in this country. 

Damn.  Kenneth’s history of homophobic abuse and violence at the hands of supposed caregivers was a disturbing story and one you would hope was rare.

Well it wasn’t more than a day or two after I read that story that I began seeing news stories about another gay foster child in Chicago. This boy was coincidentally given the pseudonym “Kenny” to protect his identity.  This Kenny has now been a ward of the state for seven years and is presently a homeless ‘runaway.’ 

Kenny recently found a family, and vice versa, in a gay couple named Matt Nalett and Fred Steinhauer.

Buuuutttttt – –
the state contracted Christian foster agency, Lutheran Child Family Services (LCFS), which is legally charged with the care of Kenny, has this written explicit discrimination policy:

The LCFS policy statement said the agency “will not develop or license adoptive or foster care families who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning.”

And as representatives from LCFS explain it, this discrimination policy is all about honoring their religious values.  And as it just so happens, as a religion, they see less than zero value in the lives of gay adults.  LCFS actually sees gay adults as subhuman.  But apparently the state of Illinois considers it appropriate for them to have legal custody of a gay child as LCFS is the state contracted agency representing Kenny.  

Think about that a second.

They have a written explicit policy saying GLBTQ adults are subhuman yet our democratically governed society ‘tolerates’ the notion that they can care of GLBTQ youth. In fact LCFS actually collects government funding to take care of Kenny and any other LGBTQ youth who has by the fickle finger of fate fallen into their child welfare safety net.

Cue a click back to the article Queer and Loathing if you are starting to wonder how rare Kenneth #1’s situation might be…

…Because at the present time a great number of religious organizations are raking in government money to operate as child welfare safety nets.  And these organizations can and do have LGBTQ children placed in their care even as they consider this population of adults subhuman, immoral, and failed people to put it quite plainly.     

In the  case of Kenny in Chicago for example discrimination is written into the state contract with LCFS: The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) confirmed that the Illinois Human Rights Act specifically exempts religious-based adoption agencies from the anti-discrimination rules every other agency must follow.

And LCFS is not alone in this sort of perverted and destructive form of child advocacy:

Lutheran Child and Family Services received $19.9 million in state funding in fiscal year 2010. And, according to DCFS, two other adoption or foster care agencies–Catholic Charities, and Evangelical Child and Family–also cite religious reasons for excluding gays. Those groups received more than $23 million in state funding in fiscal year 2010.

But I don’t want to drift too far away from the central point of child advocacy services, vulnerable children, and too far into the land of government funding social services and religious freedom to discriminate.  So let’s go back to Kenny and Kenneth for a moment. 

Don’t worry they haven’t gone anywhere; they are stuck in an eddy of pious pity and moral condemnation. 

I still think an important question to ask here is are Kenny and Kenneth rare cases? 

I mean are they that one in a million queer foster child you need to make some sort of exception for, or are they actually part of a large community of LGBTQ homeless youth exposed to state sanctioned marginalization and personal destruction AFTER they have fled familial marginalization and personal destruction?

To put it plainly, you gotta ask yourself what are the odds that a Kenny or a Kenneth, a LGBTQ youth will end up homeless BECAUSE he is gay and then be legally discriminated against BECAUSE he is gay by our nations ‘safety nets’?

You and I and the government all know that there is a disturbingly high probability a queer youth may be cast out of his or her family because they are queer. 

We know that while LGBTQ youth represent 5-10% of the population they represent 20-40% of the homeless population. And we know this child population is kicked out, beaten out, or abandoned by biologic families at an alarming rate.  We know these children are out there among the homeless teens in numbers, not just a Kenny here and a Kenneth there. 

So the odds are pretty good that a LGBTQ youth might end up ward of a state.  And we know that the state of the new millennium passes off social service responsibilities to this or that private religious group.  And we know many of those religious groups demand the ‘religious right’ to discriminate against LGBTQ people. 

And so as a society we have decided to pass vulnerable LGBTQ youth off to organizations who require written policies exempting them from respecting the civil rights of LGBTQ people. 

So it seems to me that our government is doing more than nothing to address this inhumane phenomena,  our social safety nets are actually set up to have an added negative impact on these children by knowingly putting them in the care of religious organizations who see no value in their lives whatsoever.

And I have never been interested in arguing this point.  Religions that insist upon discriminating against LGBTQ people do not see us as fully human.  None of us, neither child nor adult, are human beings in the eyes of these state contracted organizations.  If two gay men cannot adopt a gay child, because they are gay, that gay child is clearly not fully human in the eyes of the agency caring for him either.

And every last damn bit of this sick cycle of marginalization, discrimination, and ultimately of inhumane destruction of a child’s life is currently being sanctioned by our democratic government.

The project is overseen and funded by local governments who contract with religious organizations, the state governments who do the same, and the federal government which is also pouring money into organizations that discriminate and oversee the marginalization and destruction of the lives of LGBTQ youth.

Just this year the Center for American Progress put out this report:  On the Streets: The Federal Response to Gay and Transgender Homeless Youth.  In it they note:

(All) federal grant awards for homeless youth services are being awarded to providers without mandating that they not discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity, leaving vulnerable youth open to harassment from staff and other residents.

So it isn’t just Kenny in Chicago. 

Or Kenneth in Washington, D.C.


These boys aren’t the exception, they are the rule.

So while puts the pressure on the Lutheran Child Family Services by petitioning them to either serve Kenny and his dads or stop taking tax dollars…

I’d say yes, sign the petition and force them to do the right thing.

But the bigger issue is the local, state and federal government agencies investing in and legally protecting religious organization who practice systemic discrimination against LGBTQ youth.

This practice has got to be called for what it is every time it is brought forward as religious freedom.

This is not religious freedom.

It is state sanctioned child abuse.

And it must be stopped. 

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3 responses to “Kenneth and Kenny: The ‘safety net’ fails two homeless gay teens

  1. Quite simply, “Amen.” It’s time the state got out of the business of funding “theology enforcement.” If organizations are going to discriminate against queer kids, they don’t need my queer tax dollars.

  2. John Fisher

    “To do nothing is not an option”
    and that is why I have begun a program at my church to have GLBT teens in the foster care system connect with members and to raise them with love, dignity and respect. This is a pilot program that will be expanded to other churches nationwide. There will be NO judgement with these teens. They can find any or no religious paths they want. check out our web site and
    any help is always welcome. Bless it be

  3. Julia

    Your our comment is appreciated. I to am a Unitarian Universalist and I thank you for the work you are doing and for posting the information.