A lesbian woman in Nashville is suing the U.S. government after she was twice rejected from being a foster parent to unaccompanied migrant children.
Kelly Easter believes that her application with Bethany Christian Services was denied because of her sexual orientation. According to NBC News, Bethany is the only organization in the Nashville area that participates in the program for refugee children. The agency receives funding from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who in turn receive federal funding.
Although Bethany reported ending its policy of denying application to LGBTQ parents in March 2021, Easter was told by the local Nashville affiliate that USCCB funding prohibited LGBTQ foster parents, according to the lawsuit. Crux reported that Easter was instead directed to a different Bethany office further away that did not receive USCCB funding.
The lawsuit names as defendants the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Administration for Children and Families, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, claiming First and Fifth Amendment violations. The lawsuit reads, in part:
“‘By preventing children under their care and custody from being placed in homes of LGBTQ people based on USCCB’s religious beliefs, the Defendants–through USCCB and its subgrantees–not only discriminate against LGBTQ people, but also effectively disregards the non-Catholic identities and beliefs of many of the unaccompanied children for whom they are responsible. . .This conduct potentially increases those children’s alienation and vulnerability, while denying them access to loving homes that could serve them best–all at federal taxpayers’ expense.'”
In a statement through Lambda Legal, Easter expressed that she was “heartbroken,” adding:
“It hurt to be turned away–twice–solely because of my identity. I’ve been a Christian since I was a little girl and my personal relationship with God is the most important thing to me. I also know that LGBTQ people can have thriving families and that they are as important and deserving as any other.”
Karen Loewy, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, who one of the lawyers representing Easter, condemned the government’s “funneling of millions of dollars of taxpayer money into a child welfare organization that refuses to allow LGBTQ people to apply to become foster parents.” Loewy also advocated for those most at risk:
“This kind of discrimination not only hurts the people turned away–it hurts the children in these programs by reducing the number of available homes and depriving these children of the opportunity to be considered for placement in loving homes that may best serve their individual needs.”
Easter also expressed concern for the children:
“I am qualified and can provide a safe and stable home for a child. How is it better for them to stay in a group home setting instead of a home with someone who can care for and support them adequately?”
A spokesperson for HHS told NBC News there a response to the suit would be forthcoming, adding “HHS is committed to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and ensuring access to our programs and services.”
Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex for its federally-funded programs and agencies, which the Biden administration and recent court decisions have interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity. However, there are exemptions for organizations that claim this would violate their religious beliefs. Tennessee is one of 27 states with a statute prohibiting discrimination in foster care based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project. It is also one of 11 states that permit child welfare agencies the right to refuse services that conflict with their religious beliefs.
A Bethany spokesperson reiterated that they are “committed to welcoming and serving all individuals and families” and that “no one will be rejected because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Unfortunately, as long as Bethany continues to receive funding from the USCCB, this does not appear to be true for LGBTQ parents and families.
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, October 30, 2021