Advocating for myself was the most difficult part of being in the foster care system, but it’s also a vital skill to learn. Before entering the system, I had suffered plenty of abuse for being a trans man who dared to come out of the closet. My teachers rejected me, my peers kept their distance, and my home life was dreadful enough to land me in a center for suicide prevention. When grasping at the last reasons for my life to continue, I was visited by Child Protective Services (CPS) and assigned to a home within the week. After one meeting with my future foster parent, I was expected to be a perfect fit for her home because she had a family member who was transgender.
The “perfect fit” foster home quickly became a bad fit after several incidents of discrimination. I was locked in the foster parent’s room and berated for being transgender. I was once again on the precipice of ending everything after she used her biological children’s confusion with gender to stigmatize my existence. Her exact words were, “You changing your gender is like me changing my skin color from black to white; it’s never going to happen.” Bullied and with violated dignity, I pleaded for help from my caseworker, my attorney, and my therapist, but no one was willing to stand up for me. It wasn’t until I met André Wade at The Center that I was finally moved out of that foster home. He was the only adult who validated my existence, and he was abhorred at how I was left to fend for myself.
In my new foster home, discrimination endured and things didn’t end on good terms. After a family member learned I was transgender, the foster parents withheld food from me. After five months, the foster parents wanted an emergency extraction so that they didn’t have to deal with me anymore. After an argument erupted on the basis of my gender identity, the foster parents called my caseworker in the middle of the night while I packed my belongings in trash bags waiting for someone to help me. Their last words to me repeat in my mind constantly, “You’re a freak. Your only friends are transsexuals at The Center.”
Being in foster care is hard enough without tacking on the extra weight of being LGBTQ. To make things worse, there is no curriculum in the state of Nevada’s foster parent training that focuses on how to care for LGBTQ foster youth. For example, my caseworker’s supervisor saw no problems with my caseworker's behavior toward me, openly admitted to not understanding trans issues and refused attempts to have conversations about it. My caseworker was placed under investigation for being transphobic. André and I were invited to work with Department of Family Services to include LGBTQ competencies in their foster parent training, and I’ve participated in meetings to improve policies regarding LGBTQ youth in out-of-home placements.
The suffering I endured while I was in foster care transformed me into the resilient man I am today. However, my survival is not an excuse to let this problem continue to fester. I know not all foster children could brave similar encounters that I endured, and many would have taken their lives if they didn’t have the same or similar resources as I was fortunate enough to find (and they often don’t).
It is despicable to say that it could have been worse. I could have been sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, or both. It is despicable to know that this has happened to LGBTQ foster youth in the past and could be happening right now. It is despicable that this problem in the system is not acknowledged on a wider scale by the general public. I am grateful that the organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and FosterClub take the time and effort to emphasize the voices of LGBTQ foster youth.