Ok, I have finally settled into life again and can get back to regular business. I have been thinking about how to talk about the Finding Better Ways, LGBTQ Youth In Care conference since I got back and it is hard to know how to begin. I decided to just kind of start at the beginning and end at the end. Maybe that will change as time goes on but, for now, it makes the most sense.
For a little bit of background, there is a disproportional large number of LGBTQ youth in the system when compared to the general population. There are many hypothesis as to why this is, the most common of which is that many parents are less able to deal with their LGBTQ child and, therefore, either are more likely to abuse the child and have them taken away or to turn them over to the system because the parent is not able to deal with their child. If these reasons are true or not, I don’t know. But I do know that the numbers are what they are.
The first speaker was Dr. Gary Mallon who has apparently done the majority of work on this issue in the last 20 or so years. I couldn’t believe the way that they used to treat youth in the system years ago. Maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising, as I know attitudes have progressed significantly over that period of time (and we know we still have a way to go) but it made me want to cry for the lack of support and stability that these kids were experiencing. Growing up in care is never easy. Generally, people have a minimum of 5 placements during their time in the system. LGBTQ kids generally were experiencing 15-20 placements. If someone was in foster care when they came out, the attitude for many years was “save the family, remove the kid.” They would then be sent to a group home. Needless to say, a group home is not the best place for anyone to grow up. Then, they would be shuttled around to many different group homes because no one wanted to handle their case. The most common reason for removing a gay youth was that the other boys would beat him up and it was for his own safety. A lesbian youth would instead have to be removed for the reason that she would “take over” the group home and turn the other girls to lesbians.
Sexual activity of any kind is prohibited in a group home. For those of us who know anything about stages of adolescent development, we know that some sexual experimentation is not only normal but is healthy. For both heterosexual and homosexual youth this environment causes developmental issues. Of course everyone knows that sexual activity does occur in a group home setting but the punishment is generally quite severe and ranges from a loss of privilege (similar to a typical grounding), to room arrest, counseling, medication, and possibly expulsion from the home. Most people aren’t going to get kicked out of their house for some heavy petting. They also had a really nice term for same sex, sexual behavior. It was called “homosexual acting out” and was seen as expected since the children in the homes had already had difficult lives. Not because some of them may have preferred same sex relationships. There were no trainings, no discussions between staff, and no guidelines about how to talk to the youth about their sexual experiences regardless of the sex of their partner. Then, letting the staff “handle it however they saw fit”, which usually was to remove the youth from the home and we all know how foolish that is.
I guess that first session really made me think how far the system has come while knowing, from my own experience how far it has to go. I have been working with one lesbian young woman who completely despises gay men. The point of having workers who can talk to the youth about their thoughts and feelings is crucial. One thing I thought of is how I, as a straight woman, can talk to the youth. I can use the stereotypical and often flawed reason that I can’t be prejudiced because “some of my best friends are gay’ but I don’t want to be that person. I have been somewhat effective simply because I am an open and educated person that doesn’t limit myself in discussions. However, I wished there were more sessions at the conference dealing with that issue. There was one on heterosexism and how that limits you and your work but, maybe I am tooting my own horn, I didn’t think I needed that. Maybe I did, but I don’t think so. Some people there seemed curious as to why I cared about the issues. To me, you don’t necessarily have to be a member of the group to be a member of the movement. To me there are civil rights issues to be discussed and that is always important.
Ok I am at work and it is past time for me to go home and I don’t feel like typing any more. I still have a lot to talk about from the conference but not now. I’m not even going to talk music because it’s late and I need to go home but I will identify the songs that have not been guessed.
1. Cars and girls are easy come by in this day and age. Laughing, joking, drinking, smoking, till I've spent my wage. Over Under Sideways Down, The Yardbirds
2. A pretty girl is like a minstrel show. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. You go. A Pretty Girl Is Like, Magnetic Fields
5. Before I go to sleep can I be excused from dreaming? Ok this is bogus because I forgot what song this was. I’ll figure it out.