On October 13, a lawsuit filed in Washington DC accuses the US federal government of financing organizations that discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals from becoming foster parents. The complaint stated that Kelly Easter was declined twice from becoming a foster parent for a migrant child by a federal foster care program.
Easter lived in Nashville, Tennessee, when she applied with Bethany Christian Services (BCS) to become a foster parent. BCS was the most accessible foster care program for Easter at that time. They declined her application twice because she is a lesbian.
According to the Movement, Advancement Project (MAP), a nonprofit think tank advocating for equality, Tennessee state laws prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in foster care. However, the state may allow child welfare agencies to refuse applicants, including members of the LGBTQ community if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.
Months after declining Easter’s application, BCS informed her that they changed their policy and would now be accepting LGBTQ+ applicants according to the lawsuit. This policy change requires Easter to travel 40 minutes to BCS’s location in Smyrna, Tennessee. BCS explained that their Nashville location is funded by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). USCCB will not allow same-sex couples or any LGBTQ+ person to become a foster parent.
The United States federal government, through the Division of Unaccompanied Children’s Services of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, channels tax-payers money to the USCCB. Bethany Christian Services received funding from the USCCB. This year, the USCCB announced its support for the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2021. The republican-authored bill prohibits exclusion from foster parenting on racial grounds but allows the programs to be homophobic based on religious beliefs.
Easter said in a statement that she’d been a Christian since she was a child and believes that her relationship with her god is significant. “I also know that LGBTQ people can have thriving families and that they are as important and deserving as any other,” she added. “It hurt to be turned away – twice – solely because of my identity,” she said.