NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The federal government is funding organizations that illegally discriminate against LGBTQ applicants to become foster parents for unaccompanied refugee children, according to a complaint filed Wednesday.
According to the 29-page complaint, Kelly Easter was twice denied fostering a migrant child in the federal foster care program while living in Nashville, Tennessee.
The lawsuit alleges that Michigan-based Bethany Christian Services refused to allow Easter to be a foster parent late last year because she is a lesbian. Bethany is the only organization located near Easter that participates in the federal program.
Months after turning down Easter, Bethany’s management announced in March that it had changed its policy and would now accept applications from LGBTQ families, according to the lawsuit.
But the agency told Easter it would have to travel to its Smyrna, Tennessee office a half-hour drive away because its office closer to home in Nashville is under contract with the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, who will not certify same-sex couples as foster parents.
Catholic Bishops receive federal funds to provide foster placement services and Bethany receives money from Catholic Bishops at her Nashville site. The Bethany’s Smyrna site is funded by another source.
“It hurts to be turned down – twice – just because of my identity,” Easter said in a statement. “I have been a Christian since I was a little girl and my personal relationship with God is the most important thing to me. I also know that LGBTQ people can have successful families and that they are as important and deserving as anyone else.
The lawsuit, citing First and Fifth Amendment violations, names the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Children and Families Administration and the Office of Refugee Resettlement as defendants. Heads of each agency were also appointed, including HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. Agencies did not immediately respond to email requests for comment on Wednesday.
“By preventing children in their care and custody from being placed in LGBTQ homes based on the religious beliefs of the USCCB, the government (…) despises and belittles the LGBTQ children of whom they are responsible, stigmatizing them as less deserving and less worthy of respect than other children ”, argues the lawsuit.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Bethany said the organization is “committed to welcoming and serving all people and families” and that “no one will be rejected because of their sexual orientation or gender identity ”.
“We invite anyone interested in providing children with a safe and loving home to contact us and start the authorization process today,” the organization added.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington DC