Tag: Care

President Biden’s LGBTQ-Inclusive Proclamation for National Foster Care Month

9 Highlights for LGBTQ Families from the First 24 Hours

President Biden’s proclamation of May as National Foster Care Month returns to the inclusion begun by President Obama, with a mention of LGBTQ youth in foster care—and a reminder of the challenges that remain to bring equity and justice to our foster care system.

American flag with children's silhouettes

Biden’s proclamation stresses the unjust treatment of communities of color, especially Black and Native American communities, in the child welfare system, and also notes that children with disabilities are over-represented among youth in care and may not get the individualized support they need. It then says, “Children in foster care—particularly youth of color and LGBTQ+ children who are already subject to disproportionate rates of school discipline and criminalization—are also at an increased risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. And for LGBTQ+ foster youth, foster care systems are not always equipped to safely meet their needs.”

Back in 2015, President Obama’s proclamation of the observance noted that “It is important to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster or adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.” That was the first time LGBTQ people had been referenced in a presidential National Foster Care Month proclamation. The next year, Obama’s proclamation said much the same again, and added a point about LGBTQ youth as well: “When we create environments for all young people to grow and flourish and safely live as who they are—regardless of race, background, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity—our country is stronger.”

The guy in between Obama and Biden? Not so much with the inclusion.

Biden’s proclamation promises that:

My Administration is committed to addressing these entrenched problems in our Nation’s child welfare system, advancing equity and racial justice for every child and family who is touched by the foster care and child welfare system, and focusing on policies that improve child and family well-being. This is why my Administration’s discretionary funding request for 2022 includes $100 million in competitive grants for State and local child welfare systems to advance racial equity and prevent unnecessary child removals.

Let’s hope he (and Congress) can deliver. Additionally, protecting LGBTQ youth in care and LGBTQ prospective caregivers from discrimination will be helped by:

  • Passing federal legislation like the Equality Act;
  • Fighting state attempts to enact legislation that allows discrimination in foster care;
  • A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia confirming that child service agencies cannot use their religious beliefs to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others. A decision is expected by the end of June.

Stay tuned this month for more resources and stories about foster care!

Biden Administration Agrees to Delay, Review HHS Rule that Discriminated in Foster Care, Adoption, and Other Services

Trump's HHS Finalizes Rule Allowing Discrimination in Foster Care, Adoption,

After a lawsuit brought by LGBTQ organizations and a foster youth and alumni group, the Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has agreed to delay implementing a Trump-era rule that would have allowed taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies and other health and social service organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others. This will allow the administration time to review the rule and potentially change or nullify it.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Hubert Humphrey Building

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – Hubert Humphrey Building. Photo credit: Sarah Stierch. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The rule, first proposed by the Trump administration at the end of 2019 with a shorter-than-usual period for public comment, removes explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, and religion in programs receiving grants from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). These programs include not only adoption and foster care services, but also ones dedicated to preventing youth homelessness, HIV, STI, and substance abuse, among others. The rule was filed in its final form January 7, 2021, just one day after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, as I previously discussed; and was officially published January 12th. It was set to go into effect on February 11.

A foster youth and alumni group, Facing Foster Care in Alaska, along with LGBTQ organizations Family Equality, True Colors United, and Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), filed a lawsuit last Tuesday, however, challenging the Rule as unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). “The new Rule reverts to a confusing patchwork of protections that vary between programs and leave many potential beneficiaries and participants, including some of the most vulnerable members of our society, exposed to unlawful discrimination,” their complaint says. It also “violates the APA’s prohibition against arbitrary and capricious agency actions. Its proffered justifications are unreasoned, undeveloped, incorrect, and conflict with many of HHS’s own program-specific regulations, findings, policies, and priorities.”

The plaintiffs said in a statement, “There was simply no excuse for the Trump administration’s unlawful policy sanctioning taxpayer-funded discrimination against people who receive services from HHS grant programs, including youth and families in the child welfare system, youth experiencing homelessness and older adults, among other vulnerable populations.” They added, “We commend the Biden-Harris administration for hitting pause on this harmful and unlawful Trump-era rule, and hope that it will move forward expeditiously to ensure that all persons receive equal treatment under the law.”

This is splendid news. Add to this today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which said it will administer and enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and it’s turning out to be a very good day indeed.

Susan reviews The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite – The Lesbrary

Susan reviews The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite

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Olivia Waite’s The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows is the latest in the Feminine Pursuits series, and just like last time, I’m in love. The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows explores family, the perceived legitimacy of relationships, and the hazards of marriage through the trial of Caroline of Brunswick, and the complicated relationships going on in a small seaside town.

Agatha Griffin is a sharp business woman, running her printing shop after the death of her husband and trying to keep her radical son from getting himself arrested. Penelope Flood is a beekeeper with strong opinions and an unfortunate desire to please, who Agatha turns to when she discovers that bees have taken over her warehouse. Together, they care for bees, attempt political change, and mutually pine. As a sucker for mutual pining, this got me exactly where I lived – even though I had a horrified moment near the end of the book when I realised they didn’t know they were pining.

The pacing was a little off for me; there were dramatic points where it seemed like the characters were angry about a (missing, expensive) snuff-box or (missing, beloved) statues and about to investigate – and then the chapter would end and the subject was dropped for another few chapters. The time between was used very well, mostly for slowly building Agatha and Penelope’s relationship, or bringing in more of the political context, but it was jarring to go from justified fury to peaceful scenes with bees and printing. I had a similar problem with the historical explanations and scene-setting; it was useful, but sometimes hard to tell which character was narrating or where it fit into the story because it was functionally a recitation of facts.

It was very satisfying once the story got into the voices of the characters and their political activism; reading Agatha’s hope that things might change, in 2020 of all years, was emotional and relatable! The story centres people with no right to vote at that time (women and men who don’t own property), so the character’s ability to directly influence proceedings was minimal, but the activism, organisation, and use of public sentiment felt realistic to what’s going on now.

Marriage and divorce are one of the anchors of this book; it explores the hazards of marriage for women through different relationships. George IV trying to discredit and divorce his wife is rooting the story in time; there are subplots about abusive husbands, the social pressure on Penelope to behave in a way that reflected well on her husband, the sheer luck involved in Agatha having a husband that respected her, the pressure Agatha feels to have her son get married despite her own reservations about marriage as an institution, a widow with no legal rights after her female lover dies… All of these secondary and tertiary relationships are well presented and developed, and all of them circle back to this theme.

One of my favourite things about the Feminine Pursuits series is that it explicitly argues that marriage isn’t the only avenue for formalising relationships. Characters who want ways to legally bind themselves to each other when there aren’t any publicly acceptable avenues find them or make them, which is so validating to read! There are so many people in this book who are making different choices about how they want to live and be known – and the book doesn’t shy away from how those choices are made easier by wealth and privilege. It’s genuinely heart-warming to see all of the ways characters commit to and choose each other! I’d also like to point out that these decisions aren’t only between queer couples – there are couples who do have the option of legitimacy and respectability through marriage, who choose individual freedoms instead. It means a lot, especially when as recently as 2019, RITA award panels were rejecting queer historicals as “not romances” because the characters couldn’t get married at the end.

There are some cameos and references to The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics but for the most part The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows does stand on its own. There is one scene involving Catherine from the previous book that might not be clear if you don’t know who she is or what her relationship to Agatha’s shop is, but for the most part it works! (Plus, as a book nerd: the details of how the printing shop works are great and I love them.)

But the best part of the book is how funny it is! There were several points where I had to put it down and cackle – Agatha solidly roasting the concept of gal pals in a book set in the 1820s was such a brilliant moment! And Agatha and Penelope consistently going “Oh no” about how much they adore each other was delicious.

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows brings through all of the beauty and political commentary that I loved in The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, while focusing it in a different direction. I absolutely recommend it.

Caution warnings: Homophobia, spousal abuse, political demonstrations, morality policing, military-enforced censorship

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for SFF Reviews and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. She brings the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Trump’s HHS Finalizes Rule Allowing Discrimination in Foster Care, Adoption, and Other Social Services

Trump's HHS Finalizes Rule Allowing Discrimination in Foster Care, Adoption,

Not letting a little thing like insurrection stop them, the Trump administration on Thursday finalized a rule that will allow foster care and adoption agencies, along with other public health and social service organizations receiving taxpayer funds, to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Hubert Humphrey Building

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – Hubert Humphrey Building. Photo credit: Sarah Stierch. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The rule, first proposed at the end of 2019 with a shorter-than-usual period for public comment, removes explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, and religion in programs receiving grants from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). These programs include not only adoption and foster care services, but also ones dedicated to preventing youth homelessness, HIV, STI, and substance abuse, among others. The rule was filed in its final form last Thursday, while the capitol was still reeling from the insurrection, and will be officially published Monday. It is set to go into effect on February 11, 2021.

Even before this new rule made it explicit, HHS had said it would stop enforcing nondiscrimination protections among federal grantees. LGBTQ advocacy organizations have already been fighting this policy. Lambda Legal and Democracy Forward, in March sued HHS in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of Family Equality, True Colors United, and SAGE, claiming the policy was “arbitrary and capricious” and that there had been no opportunity for public comment.

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Sasha Buchert said of the new rule, “Even as Trump administration officials abandon ship, HHS has announced yet another dangerous rule that invites discrimination against the very people federal grant programs are meant to help. We call on the Biden-Harris administration to address discriminatory policies such as these immediately, and commit to eliminating them root and branch. But in the meantime, Lambda Legal is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to protect the LGBTQ community from harm.”

M. Currey Cook, director of Lambda Legal’s Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, added that the rule “puts at risk some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, including LGBT people who are poor or experiencing homelessness; LGBT seniors and LGBT youth in out-of-home care, including children in foster care, people living with HIV, and many others.”

Denise Brogan-Kator, interim CEO of Family Equality, also observed that “Removing nondiscrimination protections from health and human services programs could literally endanger the lives of vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including the LGBTQ+2S community.”

“We are particularly concerned that the 34% of foster youth who identify as LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit, who are eligible for $400 million in direct relief under the most recent COVID-19 relief bill, will be excluded from services and supports under this new rule,” said Julie Kruse, Family Equality’s director of federal policy.  “Turning away those in need of health and human services during a pandemic is unconscionable.”

“Family Equality will sue HHS over this unlawful action,” asserted Brogan-Kator.

Harm Reduction in Hard Times: What Safety & Care Around Drug Use Can Teach Us During COVID-19

Harm Reduction in Hard Times: What Safety & Care Around

In the waning months of 2019, I sat in a friend’s home in East Oakland, looking down at defunct Oakland Coliseum, and the house lights flickering on in the twilight. I was there, ostensibly, to celebrate a friend’s birthday party. But as the evening slid into night, and gentle inebriation from La Croix wine spritzers began to take hold, small bags began to be pulled from pockets, their chalky contents poured onto trays, tested for fentanyl, then cut into lines and inhaled. We were each handed an inch and a half long trimmed segment of a plastic straw, to prevent cross contamination. This, in the home of a sex worker, with two healthcare professionals on either side of me, felt safe. It felt safe to do drugs that had been hammered into my social consciousness as always dangerous, as always a step away from death. As writer and activist Dean Spade outline in their 2020 piece “Solidarity Not Charity” for Social Text, “Mutual aid is a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable.” Mutual Aid is not just about making a one-time donation, but about building a politics that is concerned with the safety and wellbeing of others, naming “the failures of the current system” and showing an alternative. And because of the safety protocols that we observed, I glimpsed what ensuring that safety might look like.

In the early months of the pandemic’s grip on the United States, I saw a graphic float across a friend’s Instagram story. Set in Barbara Kruger-esque text, the words “Guys Are Hooking Up During The Pandemic. Are You?” sprawl across a digital graffiti background. I tapped through to find the account Fagdemic, their bio a concise “Hot Work in Hard Times: fag harm reduction for coronaworld.” Seeing this account felt like being pulled through my phone screen; I wanted to reach out, wanted to peel off the layers of shame I felt for wanting to touch a stranger, to do drugs in a room with strangers, to be around strangers in a time of so much wanton isolation. For those unfamiliar, harm reduction, as defined by the International Harm Reduction Association, is a strategy of both policy and social programs “which attempt primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of mood altering substances” for individual drug users as well as their broader communities, without requiring a decrease in drug use. Harm reduction’s adoption as a viable set of socioeconomic and healthcare practices have been hotly contested because of decades’ long Drug War propaganda – the Mayor of Charleston, West Virginia, used his public platform to rally support for shutting down a needle exchange clinic just two years after it had opened.

When a gay men’s sexual health organization in Ontario decided to deal more coherently with substance use in the queer community, they called on two self-described “notorious drug using fags” to produce a video for them. But many of the most helpful, albeit transgressive parts of the video, such as speaking to an individual’s drug dealer about sanitizing practices, were edited or cut out in favor of a more conservative, abstinence forward approach on drug use. Frustrated with having to push a political message they didn’t feel aligned with, the two founded Fagdemic, and set out to produce information, messaging, and safer use tips for their broader community. For them, “starting with the language our community is already using,” around drugs, paraphernalia, and safety practices goes a long way to destigmatize the advice being given; the harm reduction tools are coming from inside the community, instead of a patronizing non-profit or ideologically-driven organization.

This strategy, of intercommunal language use to reach audiences not otherwise accessible, is notable in the work of New York City-based DISH (Do It Safe Heaux) which provided supplies for safer usage primarily to black and brown drug-using trans women. But this practice, of meeting people exactly where they are at, begins decades ago, with foundational work by John Paul Hammond, a queer Black man. Growing up in a North Philadelphia family of Quaker activists, Hammond became involved with ACT UP, and in 1992 helped to establish Prevention Point, a needle exchange clinic that has helped to prevent an estimated 11,000 new HIV infections since its founding. Dr. Lauretta Grau, associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, met Hammond in 1997 and said that, while his passion was activism, he was also an exemplary researcher. “He was on a multi-site project we were doing of active injectors as part of our research field team, and he was a very wonderful, careful, systematic researcher,” he said. “He did a lot of epidemiological research for us and was a wonderful, wonderful colleague. He was reliable, he was fastidious and he was organized. He was an extremely bright man.” Because of Hammonds’ experiences as both a drug user and as a researcher, advocate, and harm reduction activist, he was able to reach community members and individuals who would not otherwise be receptive to answering a university researcher’s questions.

Tim McCaskell, one of the most notable queer activists in Toronto’s history, also contributed deeply to work around harm reduction, helping to mentor the two men who started Fagdemic and so many others in the Toronto queer activism scene. His work spanned decades, beginning with AIDS ACTION NOW!, as well as serving as a spokesperson for Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. But in January 25th, 2019, McCaskell penned an op-ed for Now Toronto about the dangers of crystal methamphetamine use in the gay community. The byline, “I lived through the worst years of the AIDS epidemic… once again everybody’s pretending nothing is going on with the explosion of queer people experimenting with crystal meth during sex” and the contents of the article shocked so many who had trusted McCaskell to be a voice championing harm reduction. “That was especially kind of shocking coming from somebody we’ve learned so much from,” said Jonathan of the collective Fagdemic. For the Toronto-based harm reduction duo, instead of preaching the same old moralizing narratives, the work should involve “building solutions in our own healthcare modality.” The building of this modality of harm reduction should not just conclude with a politics of survival, of distributing naloxone or fentanyl test strips and calling it a day. For Fagdemic, and those interested in an abolitionist vision of harm reduction, building a politics which acknowledges how layers of marginalization impact your health outcomes, and still goes “beyond just surviving to actually enjoying our lives and accounting for those health disparities,” is the goal.

Over the summer of 2020 and into the Fall, protest camps, space collectivization efforts, free community fridges, and the distribution of harm reduction resources, PPE, and masks to those on the West Coast affected by wildfires, became more prominent than ever before. New York’s Abolition Park, an effort initially started as ‘Occupy City Hall’ became a site of communal organizing, education, and care. In Dean Spade’s writing about mutual aid projects, because they create spaces “where people come together based on some shared need or concern,” and end up encountering and working closely with people whose lives and experiences differ from theirs, they “cultivate solidarity.” Cassie, one of the organizers who was present at Abolition Park, spoke about acting not from a mindset of scarcity, or of lacking resources, but of abundance, in which “we can give everything to each other.” For her, any mutual aid project has to foreground those without resources, those “who are cut off from accessing means of life.” Nikki, a young unhoused transgender woman who began staying at Abolition Park, remarked that the life-affirming services AP offered not only allowed her a respite from the harassment she experienced on the street, but a chance to feel full and supported. She felt both politically aligned and socially cared for at AP, telling Gwynne Hogan of Gothamist “at the end of the day, [the] community takes care of the people”. Nikki’s participation in the aforementioned article seemingly led to her arrest by plainclothes NYPD officers, putting the demands of AP’s communal care and abolitionist framework even more starkly in contrast with systems of carceral justice and policing.

Abolition Park and the organizers present there worked tirelessly to create medic tents, a power charging station for people to charge their phones, and a People’s Bodega that handed out PPE, cleaning supplies, “just everything else that folks needed.” AP also hosted an eviction defense workshop