When I was 8, I would find myself in a peculiar but fateful point in my life when I would enter into the Arkansas Foster Care system through child endangerment and neglect. Fortunately, my mother complied with the requirements in order to end our case in a reunification before my 10th birthday. Unfortunately, the reunification was unsuccessful as my mother would experience a trauma ending in her breaking her back.
During this time, I was in the juvenile detention center which would provoke a call to the child welfare system, as there needs to be an adult to make decisions on any youth or child’s behalf. Due to the severity of the trauma, there would then be a home-study done. As I already had a case prior, there was blatant bias put forth by my advocating team and an exaggeration of the report filed which would cause me to re-enter care shortly before my 11th birthday.
When I re-entered care I would experience multiple foster homes and group homes, a behavioral hospital, an emergency shelter among a few other emergency placements in the flurry of just a few years. So it stands to reason, that a child who was ripped away from the reality of what I consider to be their “norm” could become depressed, as I did. The phrase “in the closet” was so pertinent to me, because I felt trapped and anxious, confined within a space inside myself. I felt alone and as though there wasn't anyone who could understand me and my pain, let alone someone who would take the time. With this defeated mentality, it wasn't long until I retreated into myself and started to feel that self-harm was the only way that I could release the pain that I was holding inside. The intensity of this feeling threw me even more into literature, education and to the power of the mind. It became my prison, but a prison I embraced and long to remain.
School was the one place that I felt I could truly be myself. Whether that was multicultural, gay, a poet, singer, writer, advocate, spiritual guide, or just simply a friend. I could express myself there, or at least I could embrace myself and be surrounded by friends who supported me, rather than the foster care realm I experienced when I walked outside the school doors. With all the instability in my life, I was able to allow myself to feel some kind of comfort when I was in school.
The following years until my 18th birthday I was bounced around to different placements including several different foster homes. It wasn't until after my 18th birthday that my father had passed away and through the fierce advocating of my case worker, I was able to travel to Arizona and attend his funeral. However, when I came back “home” that I found my belongings and my privacy had been violated. Later, I would find out that it was not just the group home staff, but the youth as well, who had gone through my stuff (with the staff’s knowledge). While this had taken place, the letter I had written to state officials proposing ideas for implementing stricter bullying mandates/policies in Arkansas’ public school system was found and read by the entire group home. I was officially outed as a gay man, and without the dignity, I deserved to tell those I felt comfortable enough to tell.
These youth who walk through life wear the burden of stigma and stereotype through their lives and lack the support and encouragement they would have in a traditional home from parents who provide love and nurturement they need. A common question in child welfare is “what does normalcy look like?” yet, all we need to do is look to find the answers. Normalcy is not having to get a background check done on a family to see a friend after school, or not missing school to travel six hours to court, just to wait 4 hours for your case to be called, all for a 20-minute review hearing. These things clearly are not normal. As it pertains to LGBTQ youth, there may not even be a stable household open enough for youth to have these conversations to help themselves figure their life out; or being forced to participate in a religion that admonishes individuals who identify as LGBTQ. Hence, not normalcy. Normalcy isn’t a science, but life. More importantly, it affects the future of our livelihood, and we can no longer afford to keep asking impertinent questions simply because the answer is not staring us directly in the face. Open your eyes, mind, and spirit to see that there are the lives of our future at risk with each passing day that we continue to ask questions.
Children and youth today need to understand that your limitless potential and power to accomplish your dreams lies within you. What better way to accomplish that than with placing children in homes with loving families, even when the family identifies as LGBT.
We need to offer better training and support services for not just caseworkers and other social service workers but include foster parents and kinship care providers. In addition, we need to consider allowing more LGBT foster family homes! As progressive as our nation is, not everyone knows how to tolerate others lives when they differ from their own, and our children suffer for it. We need to allow these children to feel love and support, regardless of how they identify.