While the Trump administration made this week a dark one for trans youth by rolling back the protections President Obama put in place for transgender students, the state of Nevada is introducing an important bill to protect LGBTQ+ foster kids. Assembly Bill 99, which was sponsored Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, D-Las Vegas, calls for foster parents and employees of state agencies to undergo a mandatory two-hour training in queer sensitivity, including gender identity affirmation, using a child's requested pronouns, and providing a child with their preferred clothing. Furthermore, the bill would require the Division of Child and Family Services of the Department of Health and Human Services to retool how they address and resolve complaints reported involving LGBTQ+ children.
LGBTQ+ kids make up an estimated 20-40 percent of the youth homeless population, owing in large part to family rejection, abandonment, and other abuse. Given the disproportionately high number of homeless queer youth, it's shocking that there isn't already foster parent and state agency training specially devised for offering these high-risk populations care. Combating the erasure of trans youth in the foster system is a specific aim of the bill, according to 19-year-old Tristan Torres, who testified on its behalf as former foster child who struggled to have his trans identity recognized by his foster mother.
"We have to show through this bill’s passage that that we know (transgender foster children) exist and we want to help them," Torres said, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada and Children’s Advocacy Alliance both support the bill. Program manager from the Community Center and former foster child Blue Montana, now 41, also spoke out in favor of the bill based on personal experience, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
"I remember when I was 7, no one would take me because I identified as a boy. They didn’t know what to do with me so they kept passing me around. A bill like this would have made a huge difference for me."
Notably, the bill doesn't force families to accept LGBTQ+ foster children if they don't wish to care for them. And while Araujo anticipated that religious groups would oppose it, no one testified against the bill during its hearing on Monday. As Araujo pointed out, Nevada does have comprehensive anti-discrimination laws in place, but none of them specifically target children left in the state's care. If passed, a bill like this could help with mitigating the "minority stress" faced by queer youth, which contributes to their heartbreaking rates of suicide and self-harm. And although one bill proposed in one state can feel like a drop in the bucket amidst sweeping national backlash against trans kids, it's important for continued hope to amplify these stories of grassroots progress.