Did you know that in the 1970s, queer social workers were quietly placing queer youth with queer foster parents, in defiance of state laws? They were “were creating something radical: state-supported queer families in an era of intense discrimination,” asserts a fascinating new article on the subject.
In “The Untold Story of Queer Foster Families” at the New Yorker, Michael Waters takes us back to the 70s to show how queer social workers in several states matched queer youth in need of homes with queer adults willing to foster them. Some of these were solo efforts; others were done with the help of the National Gay Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force), but all were done “without national coordination,” asserts Waters.
When New York became the first state to enact a policy of nondiscrimination toward LGB adoptive parents in 1982, he says, “It was a breakthrough made possible by the quiet acts of radicalism performed by social workers in the previous decade. Social-services agencies had acknowledged for the first time that queer people could serve as parents; this ultimately encouraged the agencies to write new, inclusive policies regarding queer families.”
Some of this story has been told before, in academic papers and books, but it’s a part of our history that many of us queer parents don’t know, or don’t know in full. (Another important piece, though, was the movement in the early 1970s to help lesbian mothers involved in custody battles with former husbands. This was also roughly the same time that two-woman couples and single women increasingly began to start their families together through pregnancy.)
As the article points out (and as I’ve written about before myself), the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a case that will determine whether taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies—and possibly any provider of government-contracted services—can cite religious beliefs as a reason to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others. And only 25 states protect against discrimination in foster care on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; another five have protections for sexual orientation alone, according to the Movement Advancement Project. At the same time, queer youth are overrepresented in foster care and same-sex couples are seven times more likely than different-sex ones to be raising an adopted or foster child, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. What was radical in the 1970s is therefore still radical now, Waters says, and I agree. Yet when the history of out LGBTQ parents goes back to just after World War II, there are decades of proof (and dozens of studies) that show our children are doing just as well as anyone else’s. We need to draw on those two strands—our radical activism and the mundane, average, everyday lives of most of our families—to push for even more inclusion and equality in the future.