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The Montrose Center Joins Lambda Legal Brief Urging Protection for LGBTQ Foster Youth and Parents

“The sheer breadth of what CSS is asking from the Supreme Court should trouble everyone concerned about the wellbeing of children in foster care – especially LGBTQ foster children.”

(Washington, DC, August 20, 2020) – Today, Lambda Legal submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of itself and 26 local, state, and national organizations that serve LGBTQ youth urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold an appellate court ruling denying Catholic Social Services’ (“CSS”) request that Philadelphia be ordered to contract with CSS for foster parent licensing and recruitment while allowing CSS to refuse to license same-sex couples to foster children who can’t safely return to their own homes.

“The sheer breadth of what CSS is asking from the Supreme Court should trouble everyone concerned about the wellbeing of children in foster care – especially LGBTQ foster children,” said M. Currey Cook, Counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal. “Allowing foster care agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking to foster sends a clear message to LGBTQ youth in care that there’s something unacceptable about who they are and that they aren’t equal under the law. It also exposes them to harm due to lack of family home placements likely to meet their needs.

“Moreover, if the Court grants a broad religious exemption to agencies that contract with the government to perform these public services, LGBTQ youth will be left vulnerable to actual physical harm. Some LGBTQ children could be refused life-saving services, others denied supportive placements, and some even forced to undergo futile, damaging attempts to ‘change’ their identity,” Cook added. “LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in foster care compared to their non-LGBTQ peers, largely due to rejection by their families. They too often also face discrimination in society at large. Nationally and at every level, governments have a compelling interest and legal obligation not to cause further harm to these vulnerable young people by permitting discrimination of any kind in our child welfare systems.”

CSS filed the lawsuit, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, in May 2018 after the City notified CSS that it could no longer violate the terms of its government contract and Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination law by refusing to license same-sex couples. CSS also sought a preliminary injunction to halt Philadelphia’s application of the nondiscrimination law to CSS so it could continue its discriminatory foster care licensing policies when acting for the local government. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied CSS’s request in July 2018, as did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in April 2019. CSS then asked the Supreme Court to review the ruling, which it agreed to do in February. Oral argument in the case is scheduled for November 4, 2020.

In the amicus brief, Lambda Legal alerted the Supreme Court to the serious harm to the wellbeing of LGBTQ youth in Philadelphia’s foster care system and foster care systems nationwide if government-funded providers were permitted to turn away same-sex couples and thereby (i) send the damaging message that same-sex parents are not good parents and not equal under the law, (ii) reduce the pool of homes likely to care properly for LGBTQ youth, or (iii) refuse to serve or otherwise discriminate against LGBTQ youth.

Joining Lambda Legal are three national organizations: CenterLink; The Trevor Project; and The True Colors Fund; Four Pennsylvania organizations: Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center; The Mazzoni Center; Pennsylvania Youth Congress; and William Way LGBT Community Center; and 19 local organizations from across the country: Hudson Pride Center (New Jersey); Inside Out Youth Services (Colorado); The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (New York); LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin; LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada; Lambert House LGBTQ Youth Center (Washington); Louisville Youth Group Inc. (Kentucky); the Montrose Center (Texas); One-N-Ten (Arizona); Out Boulder County (Colorado); Pacific Pride Foundation (California); Q Center (Oregon); Resource Center (Texas); Ruth Ellis Center (Michigan); True Colors, Inc. (Connecticut); Sacramento LGBT Community Center (California); San Francisco LGBT Center (California); San Diego LGBT Community Center (California); Source LGBT+ Center (California); and, Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico.

The City of Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance includes a nondiscrimination provision which states that no “[p]roviders [shall] discriminate or permit discrimination against individuals in . . . public accommodation practices whether by direct or indirect practice of exclusion, distinction, restriction, segregation, limitation, refusal, denial, differentiation or preference in the treatment of a person on the basis of . . . sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, [or] familiar [sic] status[.]” In addition to enforcing City law and ensuring contractual compliance with an agency it funds, the City’s decision was consistent with its obligations under federal and state law and the U.S. Constitution to ensure the wellbeing of all children in its care, including LGBTQ youth.

As highlighted in the brief, years of empirical research show that LGBTQ individuals suffer negative health outcomes—such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidality—when they are subjected to discrimination and stigma. Discrimination which is sanctioned or permitted by the government can be a matter of life or death for an LGBTQ young person: the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth (and one of the service providers participating in this brief), reports that they saw a significant spike in calls from transgender youth in crisis in the aftermath of President Trump’s August 2017 tweet announcing a ban on transgender service members and another spike when the administration walked backed federal protections for transgender students.

Lambda Legal and its partners will continue to fight against any attempt via court action or legislation to legitimize harm to LGBTQ youth and families or limit the number of homes available for children in need.

For more information on Lambda Legal’s advocacy around this issue, please visit the website for the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign. Lambda Legal is proud to be a founding member of ECDF and co-chair of the ECDF state coalition with Family Equality Council.

Also, read about Marouf v. Azar, Lambda Legal’s case on behalf of a same-sex couple who were turned away by a government-funded, faith-based agency when they tried to foster a refugee child in Texas and Rogers v. HHS, Lambda Legal’s case on behalf of a same-sex couple who were turned away by a government-funded, faith-based agency when they tried to foster a child in South Carolina. The federal trial courts in both cases have held that our clients’ have valid claims.  Lambda Legal is also suing HHS in Family Equality v. Azar for the administration’s decision simply to stop enforcing existing federal nondiscrimination rules protecting LGBTQ parents, foster and adoptive parents, and children in the child welfare system nationwide.

Authoring the brief for Lambda Legal were attorneys M. Currey Cook and Senior Counsel Jennifer Pizer. The case is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.


Press contact:  Tom Warnke, Cell: 213-841-4503: Email:

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

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