A study by the Williams Institute at UCLA and Holarchy Consulting discovered that of the one-in-five LGBT foster youth ages 12-21 were twice as likely to be treated poorly by the foster care system than straight youth.
Of the 7,400 youth in the Los Angeles County foster care system, 1,400 – more than double what researchers believe to be in the general population – identify as LGBT.
“People refer to it as the ‘dirty little secret’ that there are so many LGBTQ kids in foster care, but nobody’s been able to document it,” Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which commissioned the study, said. “We need to know who these kids are because only if we know who they are can we help them.”
Besides being disproportionately represented, 18.5 percent said they have experienced discrimination for their sexuality in the system which is double what their straight counterparts said.
They are also more likely to have been “homeless, hospitalized overnight, hospitalized for emotional reasons or to live in a group home,” according to the study.
Social workers tend to wait for children to come out about their sexuality because they don’t know how to ask or don’t want to intrude on the child’s privacy. The Los Angeles LGBT Center is training social workers and foster parents about how to work with gay youths, Jean said.
“We have seen decreases in overt homophobia in the foster care system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not subtly still present,” executive director of the Children’s Law Center of California Leslie Starr Heimov said.
Of the LGBT foster youths, 83 percent are Latino or Black.
Williams Institute researcher Bianca Wilson said that many youths face discrimination for “being both sexual minorities and ethnic and racial minorities.”
Giovanni Fernandez spent holidays alone as a teenager in his room because his foster mother didn’t want his “gay germs” on the family. His social worker changed the subject when he came out, causing him to be depressed, dropping out of high school and leaving the system.
Now, the 38-year-old hopes the study will let LGBT foster youth know they are not alone.
“I just didn’t know if there were others like me,” Fernandez, now studying to be a social worker, said. “When you feel like you’re the only one, it’s a lonely place to be.”