On Thursday, February 27, 2020, Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Chairman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing entitled The Administration’s Religious Liberty Assault on LGBT Rights. The hearing focused on how the Trump Administration has been undermining LGBTQ rights since the inauguration day as the Administration continues to roll back protections for LGBTQ people across the board systemically. The hearing examined the Administration’s constant erosion of LGBTQ citizen’s rights in multiple areas, including healthcare, employment, adoption, and foster care.
There were two panels of witnesses at this hearing. Four witnesses gave testimony on the first panel: Congressmen Sean Mark Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Joe P. Kennedy III (D-MA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), and Mark Takano (D-CA). Five witnesses gave testimony on the second panel: Sarah Warbelow, Legal Director of the Human Rights Campaign, Reverend Stan J. Sloan, Chief Executive Officer of the Family Equality Council, Ernest Olivares of San Antonio, Texas, Evan Minton of Livermore, California and Hiram Sasser (Minority Witness), Executive General Counsel of First Liberty Institute.
In her opening statement, Chairwoman Maloney discussed how the Administration continues to heighten statements made by President Trump during his presidential campaign regarding the protection of LGBTQ rights. “Immediately after [President Trump] took office, his administration began undermining vital LGBTQ rights,” stated Chairwoman Maloney. “The White House started by removing all mentions of LGBTQ rights or people from its website, and it has gone down since then. The Trump Administration quickly dismantled important legal and regulatory protections for LGBTQ people. It adopted discriminatory rules and undermined protections for LGBTQ people.”
In his opening statement, Chairman Raskin addressed the question of whether or not business or federally funded agencies, such as hospitals and adoption agencies, have the right to refuse services to LGBTQ people. According to Chairman Raskin, “…the answer should be easy.” Unfortunately, this is not the case, or hearings such as these would have to be held. Chairman Raskin also highlighted the Trump Administration’s misuse of the term “religious liberty.” “The Administration has rapidly turned “religious liberty” into a pretext and excuse for denying LGBTQ citizens the ability to participate equally in all aspects of the economy and society,” Chairman Raskin said.
Congressman Maloney shed light on the damage the Trump Administration’s actions were causing regarding a child’s ability to be adopted or placed in a foster home. As one of the seven openly gay members of the United States House of Representatives gave a heartfelt testimony on him and his husband’s journey as a foster parent. He spoke in-depth about how gay couples were more likely to accept a child regardless of the child’s background. He highlighted this in the following statement:
“They had learned in the 1990s that there were certain types of kids who were not going to be adopted, where the circumstance of their birth, through no fault of their own obviously, was difficulty or confronting for traditional adoption parents. Where there were issues of HIV, or rape, or incest, sometimes mixed with concerns about interracial adoption…and what these adoption agencies learned, to their credit, was that there were LGBTQ couples in cities like New York who would say yes to these children…not as an alternative to the straight couple that was going to raise them, as an alternative to never being adopted, because no one was going to adopt these kids.”
Congressman Maloney went on to address his support for same-sex adoption in his statement “When you allow people to discriminate against those couples, you deprive children of good moms, dads, families who are going to love them, and you dress it up as religious liberty, you simply sanction discrimination and deprive those children of a home they deserve.”
Of the five witnesses on the second panel, two LGBTQ people who have suffered discrimination for years were able to share their stories. Ernesto Olivares, a 29-year-old gay male from San Antonio, Texas, told his story of growing up in a discriminatory foster care system. In his testimony, he highlighted how LGBTQ youth are more likely to be treated poorly in the foster care system. “LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit youth are over twice as likely to report being treated,” Olivares stated.
“The thing that scared me the most is that I had heard rumors that gay kids got sent to a “Special” home with 24-hour surveillance, with other youth who had mental health issues or special needs,” Olivares said. Olivares went on to address the growing issue of homeless LGBTQ youth.
“It’s not surprising to me that LGBTQ foster youth are more likely to become homeless,” Olivares said. Many LGBTQ foster youth receive such poor treatment in foster care that they choose homelessness over foster care. I can understand this because there were so many times I wanted to just run away, leave, and never come back.”
Despite the growing need for foster care and adoption parents, because of this “conscience rule,” the Trump Administration fails to move forward with the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (S. 1791, H.R. 3114), which would be a huge step to ending discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the foster care system. Also, this bill will provide states with better resources to provide better services for LGBTQ youth. There has not been any further action regarding this bill since June 2019.
The issue of whether or not “religious liberty” justifies the actions of government-funded agencies in their discrimination against LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ parents in the foster care system continues to be an ongoing debate. Chairwoman Maloney highlights the harm this debate, not only for foster care children and potential foster care LGBTQ parents but to our nation as a whole.
“One of the most syndical aspects of the Administration’s effort is how it has emboldened discrimination by distorting claims of religious liberty. The Trump Administration is dividing America and pitting American citizens against each other,” said Chairwoman Maloney. “Let me make one thing crystal clear. I am a strong supporter of religious liberty, but it should not be distorted and twisted into a weapon to enable discrimination.”