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Assemblyman pushes bill for LGBT foster youth protection

By: Reno Gazette-Journal, Seth A. Richardson

A Las Vegas assemblyman is trying to give children in government care the right to choose their gender.

The bill marks a diversion from much of the national debate over transgender rights, especially in states like North Carolina and Texas where conservative lawmakers have sought to require transgender people to use the assigned bathrooms of their biological sex.

Under Assembly Bill 99 from Assistant Assembly Majority Leader Nelson Araujo, D-Las Vegas, children in state foster care facilities would be able to identify as the gender of their preference. It would also mandate ongoing training on working with LGBT youth. The Division of Children and Family Services would also be required to set up a placement process to find foster families compatible with LGBT youth and in juvenile detention facilities based on their preferred sex. A way for foster children to file grievances would also be set up by DCFS.

Araujo said he introduced the bill because of the significant risk to LGBT youth whom are overrepresented in the foster care system. The number of LGBT children in foster care is disproportionately high, largely because of families not accepting the child, he said.

“This is a very emotional bill to take in, but it’s a very important bill,” Araujo said. “I strongly feel that if we allow ourselves to pass this bill and get it signed that we’ll be making great advancements toward ensuring that all of our youth have the proper protections in order to thrive in our great state.”

Several lawmakers had questions over how the bill would affect the foster system at large during a Monday committee hearing. Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, asked how the bill would ensure proper training instead of “training for training’s sake.” Assemblywoman Robin Titus, R-Wellington, said she was worried the new training would be burdensome and possibly decrease the number of foster families, particularly in the rural areas. Assemblyman Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas, questioned how the rules would be implemented.

The bill is limited and would not require a foster family to take an LGBT youth if they have a religious objection, Araujo said. He pointed to several other states that have protection for children in foster care, including California and Oregon, and said stakeholders would all be included when developing the rules, regulations and training.

“It’ll take time and I won’t hide from that, but I think these are conversations worth having,” he said. “I think there are going to be several examples we can pull from.”

More than a dozen people spoke in favor of the bill, including several LGBT foster youth who recounted what they described as discrimination from their foster families. Nobody spoke in opposition.

Tristan Torres, a transgender man from Las Vegas who lived in the foster care system after his mother disowned him for being transgender, said he was greatly affected during his time in the foster care system. He was bullied at school and his foster mother said that was to be expected since he “was not normal,” he said.

“When I got put into my first foster home, I thought I’d be safe, but exactly the opposite happened,” he said.

A second family wasn’t any better, causing a lot of pressure – which led to self-loathing – over his transgenderism, he said.

Dr. Laura Deitch, a counselor who has treated both transgender and foster youth, said most foster parents don’t understand transgender youth issues by virtue of simply not having been exposed to training.

“It’s not their fault,” she said. “They’re not necessarily transphobic or malicious, but they haven’t had the opportunity to learn about the needs of these kids and how to serve them best.”

Transgender rights have become a hot topic in politics in recent years. Much of the debates have involved which bathroom transgender people are allowed to use – either their preferred gender or birth gender.

Lawmakers in North Carolina received a slew of backlash over a similar bill that applies to transgender people of all ages. Several large organizations and artists pulled events from the state, including the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and 2017 NCAA early-round basketball tournament games.

The Washoe County School District allows students to use the bathroom of their assigned gender and was praised by the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama. A 2015 bill narrowly defeated in the Assembly would have required students to use the bathroom of their biological sex.

This story has been updated to remove a portion about the bill not applying to detention facilities, which was in a previous draft. The bill does apply to detention facilities.