Governor Andy Beshear has asked all of us to stay in our homes to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. However, during this time of social isolation, the work to protect LGBTQ+ youth goes on. There are still young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, gender-queer, gender non-conforming, two-spirit, and nonbinary who are experiencing homelessness. Some are estranged from their families. Some are still risking exposure to the coronavirus, and while they are not generally considered in the high-risk groups, we don't yet know all the ways the virus may manifest itself in young people.
Here are some recent examples of the work we are doing to protect LGBTq+ kids:
- As the COVID-19 crisis overwhelms the child welfare system and many young people who have experienced foster care are losing employment and housing, we know that 1 in 5 children and youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ+. So KYLP is stepping up our efforts to educate Kentucky child welfare workers about the unique needs of these kids and the importance of getting the best placements for them.
- We are representing several youths who are currently in Kentucky's foster care system. One of them, a sweet and funny 13-year-old African American kid, came into the system last year when his mother died of cancer. By age 9, he was caring for his five younger siblings, acting as a surrogate parent to them, and acting as a home health aide for his mother, who was too ill to parent any of them. When he and his siblings were placed in foster care after their mother's death, he was just beginning to come out as a gay kid. This made it much harder to find a placement for him. Thankfully, we were able to find a same-sex couple in Central Kentucky who opened their home and their hearts to him. Now, he is able to stay in touch with his younger siblings and have a forever family that understands him, will fight for him, and will give him a loving and safe home.
- KYLP has recently launched a new Facebook page, @KYLPyouth, specifically for LGBTQ+ youth under age 25 and the rapid increase in membership to that page has been astounding. Just in the past two weeks we have welcomed 140+ new members and reached nearly 5,000 Kentucky youth from all over the state. All of them are under age 25 and are seeking information and support regarding their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Additionally, we have launched a private discussion group where young people can ask questions about their legal rights and share their concerns and fears.
- For more than a year, KYLP and our partners in Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky have been at the forefront of the fight to enact legislation that will prevent licensed mental health professionals from using harmful and universally denounced practices known as "conversion therapy." In the 2020 Kentucky General Assembly, a bill that we drafted was introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate. We are proud that there was a true bipartisan effort to get this legislation passed, and while we didn't get a vote this session, we did get commitments from the Chairs of the committees to which the bills were assigned that we would get a committee hearing during the interim, which is an important step toward passage. We will be gearing up for these hearings this summer.
- Over the past few months, I have answered a number of questions from KYLP Youth members, mostly wanting to know what their legal rights were related to hate crimes, conversion therapy, and discrimination in their schools and communities. They are thirsty for knowledge about their civil and legal rights, and this affirms our belief that LGBTQ+ youth recognize that they are treated differently and have some pretty big obstacles in their path. They need to know they have an ally who will fight for them.
You can be an ally too. Your gift of $25, $50, $100 or more will help KYLP fulfill our pledge to fight for LGBTQ+ youth throughout Kentucky. Please consider becoming a KYLP Sustainer by making your gift recurring weekly, monthly, or semiannually.
Remember what Gov. Andy says: We will get through this; we will get through this TOGETHER!
Thank you for your generous support of the Kentucky Youth Law Project!
Keith D. Elston
KYLP Founder and Legal Director