Today, HRC condemned the Tennessee legislature for passing HB 836, a bill that would allow child welfare organizations -- including taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies -- to turn away qualified Tennesseans seeking to care for a child in need, including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection. The bill has passed through both chambers and will now be sent to the governor’s desk. HRC urges Governor Bill Lee to veto this bill.
HB 836 could have a sweeping, harmful impact in child welfare services by enabling discrimination against LGBTQ people, same-sex couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other qualified parents to whom an agency has an objection. The biggest barrier to placing children with families is a lack of qualified prospective parents; having the state give contractors and subcontractors a license to discriminate, thereby limiting the pool of prospective parents for no legitimate reason, is unconscionable and an unacceptable use of taxpayer dollars.
“Lawmakers in Tennessee used some of the first minutes of their legislative session to enshrine discrimination into law,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “These legislators are disregarding the best interests of kids in the child welfare system to create a ‘license to discriminate’ against qualified, loving prospective parents. This bill does nothing to improve the outcomes for children in care, shrinks the pool of prospective parents and is a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Tennesseans. It is shameful that one of the first orders of business in Nashville was to target LGBTQ people. We urge Tennesseans to make their voices heard in opposition to this bill as it heads to the governor’s desk.”
“Passing a bill that funds discrimination in adoption and foster care is one of the worst ways to start a legislative session,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. “Despite a vigorous debate on the bill, the best interests of children in Tennessee lost today. We join friends and allies across the country in calling for the governor to veto the bill.”
HRC recently released a report, titled Disregarding the Best Interest of the Child: License to Discriminate In Child Welfare Services, detailing the harms of efforts to write anti-LGBTQ discrimination by child welfare agencies into law. Statistics suggest that an estimated two million LGBTQ adults in the U.S. are interested in adoption, but the LGBTQ community often remains an untapped resource when it comes to finding families for children and youth in foster care.
Research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because of their LGBTQ status, and are especially vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care. HB 836 will only exacerbate these challenges faced by LGBTQ young people.