Finding Their Way With Foster Care and in the LGBT Community
This story is one youth’s journey through the foster care system while also exploring gender identification during a complex period in their young life. LGBT youth are over-represented in the foster care system. This means that the percentage of youth in foster care who are LGBT-identified is larger than the percentage of LGBT youth in the general youth population. Please note content warning for descriptions of homophobia and a brief mention of drug use.
In 1998 I am born and my doctor announces to my biological parents that they just had a baby girl, but this assessment is a little off for me. My journey will eventually take me to explore what is gender identification and what it might mean to identify as agender (doesn’t identify as any gender). In 2002, my bio parents move us to a house deep in the woods, and decide that they will homeschool me. In 2005, I find myself having a crush on my favorite cartoon character. He’s brave and kind and cool, and I feel happy when I see him. I have the same feelings about the girl that is his best friend but I do not call this a crush because I have never seen a TV show where a girl has a crush on a girl.
The next year my bio dad loses his job and my bio mom starts on the path to drug addiction. This was the year that things started getting bad at home. By 2010, I start making friends for the first time online. We talk about the comics we read and the music we listen to. Some of them are straight, some of them aren’t. Most of them think it’s kind of weird that I don’t go to school, and that I have to take care of my younger siblings because of the issues happening with my bio parents. In 2011, one of my friends tells me that she has a crush on me. I let her down easy, informing her that I’m very sorry, but I’m straight. A few nights later I lay in bed thinking about this, and realize that I might not be as straight as I thought. I don’t tell my friend, because I don’t want to play with her feelings.
The next year, my bio dad (who is by no stretch of the imagination religious) screams at me in the car about how being gay is a sin. We had just picked up the mail, and I had mentioned that there was a homophobic anti-marriage equality flier in amongst the bills. I hadn’t told him that I was bisexual yet, and at that moment I decide that I never will. In 2013, we get our first visit from a DHS worker. I lie when they ask me about my life, because even though I am not happy, I am terrified of the unknown. In October, I remember making my little brother’s Halloween costume by hand. We don’t leave the house often enough to buy a costume, and we aren’t allowed to go trick-or-treating anymore anyways. In November, my dad and I come home from one of our occasional shopping trips to several cop cars in the driveway, as well as a DHS vehicle.
I don’t cry when I pack my duffel bag. If I did my brother and sister would be even more afraid, and I can’t let that happen. My first foster family is kind, but they go to church. I do my best not to slip up about my sexuality in front of them. The girls my age that live there talk about the boys they like, but never other girls. In December, I am moved to a new foster home. This family is so welcoming that it’s hard to believe, but they also go to church, and I have come to regard this as something to be afraid of. I start going to school for the first time in my life. A year later and I no longer tiptoe around the fact that I am in foster care when I talk to my friends. They all know, and sometimes we even joke about it. I also no longer tiptoe around my bisexuality, at least when I am at school. While I don’t feel safe coming out to my foster parents, my friends at least know who I am. Occasionally I even share my experiences as an LGBT person during class discussion.
Joining the theater program helped me to come out of my shell, and I feel like as I let others get to know me, I begin to know myself a little bit better. In 2015, I start to come into my own. One of my friends refers to me as a guy on accident. He apologizes afterward, but I really don't mind. While I have not come out to any of my friends as agender yet, it's a relief to not be treated like a girl for once. He apologized profusely for his mistake, but I spent the rest of the day overjoyed. I also change my pronoun settings on social media to they/them, though I don’t tell many people that I prefer these. I have learned that baby steps are the compromise between keeping myself safe and being true to myself.
A couple of years later while at a camp for foster youth, I hear a speaker talk about his experience as an LGBT foster youth. Afterwards I cannot keep from shedding a tear, and I shake his hand and thank him for helping me to feel a little bit less alone. I also start college this year. The college I chose is one of the most LGBT friendly in America, and I pin buttons on my backpack that declare my pronouns and orientation. Many of my friends are LGBT, though some are not, and nobody feels the need to hide. I attend my first Pride Parade in 2018. I tell my foster mom that I am going to support a friend, but once I’m in the car I tie a pink, purple, and blue flag around my shoulders. In 2019, I finally come out to my foster parents, after living with them for 5 years. I know that they love me, but until I say it I am not sure that they will love this part of me. My foster mom looks at me after I finish talking. “Is that all?” she asks me. I tell her yes. “Oh, thank God,” she says. “I was afraid you were going to tell me you wanted to move out.” This year I attended my second Pride Parade and this time I tie my flag around my shoulders before I leave the house.
Throughout my journey both as a foster youth and as a member of the LGBT community I was often plagued by doubt. It was almost as difficult to understand who I was as it was to know who I could trust. No amount of kindness could make me feel safe because during my life I had seen some of the people I had trusted the most spit the most homophobic speech. For foster youth and LGBT youth alike trust is difficult to build, and we cannot feel safe based simply on assumptions. Looking back on my life, especially since I entered foster care, I can’t even imagine how much simpler it all would have been had the adults in my life been explicit in their support of the LGBT community, or had they been more upfront about how the foster care system worked.
If you are reading this because you work with foster youth, and you want to know how to better support those that are LGBT, the best advice I can give you is to be vocal about your support. You might be sure about your willingness to back up a foster youth regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, but they have know way of knowing that. Foster youth that are LGBT are at the intersection of two groups that are often unsure of their safety, and just a few words can help remove some of that doubt.
If you are reading this because you are a foster youth who is a member of the LGBT community, know that you are not alone. Not only in the sense that there are others like you, a whole community of people who have been through or are currently going through the same struggles as you, but in the sense that there is a whole host of allies who want to help guide and support you. Even if you are afraid now or you feel lost, as cheesy as it sounds, I promise you that it gets better. Take it from someone who has been there.