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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

State receives just one letter supporting retreat from antidiscrimination rules for LGBT foster children

When the state first proposed to backtrack from new rules banning discrimination and controversial conversion therapies for LGBT foster children in group homes, the response from Florida’s gay rights groups was loud.

Equality Florida — which lobbies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights — sent out an alert: “PROTECTIONS FOR FLORIDA’S LGBTQ FOSTER KIDS ARE UNDER ATTACK!”

The result: More than 50 people appeared at a public hearing to protest the change, and 700 submitted a written comment to the Department of Children and Families opposing it.

“I am not gay but I do not feel that anyone should be able to treat gay children and teens any differently than straight children and teens,” wrote Claudia Gattshall of Tampa. “I am appalled.”

“After all your attempts to hinder gay rights, especially this current attempt to allow bullying of foster children, I’ve decided we will no longer vacation in your state until you stop this nonsense,” wrote Paul Cotter of Pascoag, R.I., who said he and his husband usually vacation in Ft. Lauderdale every year.

Equality Florida sent more than 500 form letters on behalf of people — so many emails with the exact same message that they got caught in DCF’s spam filter.

And 10 Democratic members of Congress weighed in, as well.

“Removing these badly needed protections will place thousands of LGBTQ youth at greater risk for bullying, harassment and psychologically damaging ‘conversion therapy’ from the very individuals and organizations meant to provide a stable, nurturing home for vulnerable youth,” they wrote.

DCF officials received just one letter backing their proposed action.

“We are very much interested in becoming foster parents in a few years when our children are a bit older, but would find it very disconcerting to have to worry about possibly being accused of bullying a foster child simply by practicing our faith!!” wrote Michael and Marysol McDonald of Naples. “Thank you for listening to us and doing something very reasonable, i.e. changing unreasonable and totally unnecessary language used by DCF.”

Though DCF has received overwhelming opposition to striking the language in the rule, it has the authority to come to a final decision on its own. Department leaders are not required to change course as a result of public comment.

“We are still working on this and there is not a specific timeline for adoption,” department spokeswoman Jessica Sims said in an email.

The idea to grant additional, specific protections for gay and transgender youth came from a group of lawyers called the LGBTQ Child Welfare Workgroup. It’s part of a broader set of new rules DCF has been considering for group homes.

Under the original proposal, sexual orientation and gender identity would have been added to the list of categories in antidiscrimination language, alongside race and religion, among others. It also would have specifically banned  “conversion therapy” programs that try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and would have required that transgender children be allowed to wear clothes of their choosing and be placed in group homes according to their identity.

Then, in January, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops and Baptist Children's Homes raised objections, and state officials backtracked, replacing antibullying language singling out sexual orientation and gender identity with the phrase “or any other characteristic” and striking the other rules completely.

For its part, DCF has said it does not want to “politicize” child welfare.

“Every vulnerable child is entitled to our protection,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement. “The modified language in the rule, which was publically developed and scrutinized, expands protections to encompass every child we serve regardless of inherent traits, personal characteristics, or past experiences."

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2016 10:45am]


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