SHAMEFUL: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee Signs Harmful Anti-LGBTQ Child Welfare Bill

Today, HRC condemned Tennessee Governor Bill Lee for signing HB 836, a bill that would allow child welfare organizations — including taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies — to turn away qualified Tennesseans seeking to care for a child in need, including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection. 

“It’s disturbing that Governor Bill Lee signed legislation that will harm children in Tennessee,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Elected officials should protect all of their constituents, not just some. Now, Tennessee has the shameful distinction of being the first state to pass an anti-LGBTQ bill into law this year. This bill does nothing to improve the outcomes for children in care, shrinks the pool of prospective parents and is a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Tennesseans. With many months ahead in the Tennessee legislative session, Tennesseans should make their voices heard — loudly — to ensure that the legislature and Gov. Lee do not continue to target LGBTQ Tennesseans.” 

“As this bill becomes law, Tennessee’s LGBTQ community is worried about the introduction of even more discriminatory bills,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. “The Governor and the Legislature must put a stop to this kind of demeaning public policy.”

HB 836 could have a sweeping, harmful impact in child welfare services by enabling discrimination against LGBTQ people, same-sex couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other qualified parents to whom an agency has an objection. The biggest barrier to placing children with families is a lack of qualified prospective parents; having the state give contractors and subcontractors a license to discriminate, thereby limiting the pool of prospective parents for no legitimate reason, is unconscionable and an unacceptable use of taxpayer dollars. 

HRC recently released a report, titled Disregarding the Best Interest of the Child: License to Discriminate In Child Welfare Services, detailing the harms of efforts to write anti-LGBTQ discrimination by child welfare agencies into law. Statistics suggest that an estimated two million LGBTQ adults in the U.S. are interested in adoption, but the LGBTQ community often remains an untapped resource when it comes to finding families for children and youth in foster care.

Research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because of their LGBTQ status, and are especially vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care. HB 836 will only exacerbate these challenges faced by LGBTQ young people.

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Ensuring Competent Care for Transgender and Non-Binary People

While communities around the country observe Trans Awareness Week, in one Texas city, advocates have shifted the narrative. 

The Mahogany Project and Save Our Sisters, two Houston-based organizations, have founded Black Trans Empowerment Week to “not only to memorialize those who have been tragically taken, but to charge forward into the empowered future they envision for all transgender people.”

For Houston community health advocate Donte Oxun, it’s exciting to see. 

“Even in the light of so much transphobia and racism from our government and from some parts of society, to see my community be like, ‘You know what? We’re not just remembering our dead.’ We actually have so much more work to do, and we’re going to do all of it,’” they told HRC.

Oxun has worked in HIV and public health spaces since 2009, shortly after they were diagnosed with HIV — something that propelled them into speaking out.

“Like many people who are gender diverse and of color, my life was definitely touched by HIV even before I was living with HIV,” Oxun said. “I have family members who I lost to HIV when I was pretty young.”

“I’ve always been a bit of a loudmouth and a person who understands and relates with people who struggle,” they continued. “So, the way I dealt with my HIV diagnosis was to be really public about it at first. It’s important to humanize our perspective and really show that people can live regular lives and that we deserve to have our stories told.”

In their work with Legacy Community Health in Houston, Oxun is a lead patient advocate, primarily helping patients — particularly trans and non-binary patients — living with HIV or Hepatitis C to navigate the health care system and receive the care they need. Legacy has been offering gender-affirming, LGBTQ-competent care for young people and adults for more than 30 years, Oxun said.

“Competent care is a challenge,” they said. “We shouldn’t have to negotiate between parts of our identities when seeking care is already a challenge.”

Texas has one of the highest populations of uninsured people, reminds Oxun. Obstacles to accessing care range from poverty and socioeconomic status to fear of stigma or violence — something on the minds of many as we draw closer to commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance

Of the 22 known transgender or gender non-conforming people killed this year, four of those victims were killed in Texas. All four of the trans people killed in Texas this year were Black transgender women — something that matters when talking about how to support and provide services for the local transgender community.

“Violence affects people’s health care,” Oxun said. “When a person doesn’t feel safe to catch the bus to walk down the street, they’re going to be less likely to see a doctor. They’re going to be less likely to pick up their prescriptions. They’re going to be less likely to get access to care.”

Until those barriers are dismantled and addressed, transgender and gender non-conforming people will continue to face higher rates of discrimination, poverty, homelessness and violence not just in Texas but around the country.

“No matter who you are, if you’re working in any form of health care, you’re going to interact with somebody who’s gender diverse,” Oxun said. “You may not know it, they may not be comfortable reporting it to you, but you are. It’s about seeing them as a whole person.”

For information for LGBTQ people seeking to learn more about access to care, particularly under the Affordable Care Act, click here.

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Jeff Sessions is a Dangerous Opponent of Equality

HRC announced our opposition to the newly announced U.S. Senate bid of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“At every point in his career, Jeff Sessions has used his power to discriminate against LGBTQ people, people of color and anyone who doesn’t look or think like him,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “From his time as Alabama Attorney General to the Senate to his horrific leadership at the Department of Justice, Sessions has systematically worked the levers of government to deny the rights of others. In 2017, Alabama voters chose equality by electing Sen. Doug Jones. We are hopeful that Alabamians will continue along that path, and deny Jeff Sessions, Roy Moore, or any of the anti-equality politicians who are seeking this office as a means to discriminate.”

In the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate in 2017, HRC organized more than 20 GOTV events — including phone banks, canvasses, and community events in the closing weeks of the campaign. For two months, more than 160 HRC volunteers and 11 HRC staff worked to reach the nearly 200,000 “Equality Voters” across Alabama — a voting bloc comprised of not only the 100,000 LGBTQ voters in the state but also the thousands of additional allies HRC has identified statewide. HRC also partnered with allied civil rights organizations, including the NAACP of Alabama and others, to increase voter turnout.

For more on Sessions’ anti-LGBTQ record, go to HRC’s Sessions Report.

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