Nonprofit foster and adoption agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ people have received millions of local, state and federal taxpayer dollars in the last several years, HuffPost has found.
States and counties pay private agencies, including faith-based nonprofits, to provide certain foster and adoption services. Some of those agencies don’t treat prospective LGBTQ parents the same as other prospective parents, arguing that doing so would violate their moral and religious beliefs.
But civil rights advocates say taxpayer money should not be used to fund discrimination, and kids in dire need of a home are missing out on good families.
There are large amounts of public money at stake. The following are just two examples of agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ people and receive taxpayer money:
Miracle Hill Ministries, a South Carolina Christian organization, stipulates on its website that foster parents must “have a lifestyle that is free of sexual sin” ― listing “pornographic materials, homosexuality, and extramarital relationships” as specific examples. The organization has already received more than $4.6 million in federal and state funding in the 2018 fiscal year, according to a South Carolina Department of Social Services spokeswoman, and has recruited about 14 to 15 percent of foster homes in the state. No other South Carolina providers restrict services based on parents’ sexual orientation, as far as the spokeswoman was aware. Miracle Hill did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Michigan paid St. Vincent Catholic Charities, a nonprofit in Lansing, Michigan, at least $10.6 million in federal and state funds for foster care payments alone over a two-year period that ended in September 2017, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services data. But St. Vincent “cannot provide written recommendations and endorsements of unmarried or same-sex couples,” Melinda Skea, a spokeswoman for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is handling the organization’s media inquiries, told HuffPost in an email. Skea said St. Vincent will always make sure any family who wants to foster or adopt can, even if that means referring them to another nearby agency. But that promise doesn’t lessen the sting of rejection, Dana Dumont, a married woman who says St. Vincent turned her and her wife away, told NPR last year. “It was kind of a slap in the face,” Dumont said.
States pay agencies for all sorts of services related to foster care or adoption, and that taxpayer money doesn’t necessarily go toward dealing directly with prospective parents. But people who are discriminated against aren’t likely to care what the government is paying the agencies that discriminate against them to do.
They care that the government is paying those agencies at all.
It can be difficult for prospective parents to even determine which agencies might discriminate against them. Bethany Christian Services, a nonprofit social services agency with locations in dozens of states, has received tens of millions of federal and state dollars from states including Georgia, Indiana and Michigan for adoption or foster care services in recent years, according to state data. In 2015 and 2016, about 60 percent of the agency’s operating revenue came from services provided under contract with “governmental units,” according to an audit.
Like St. Vincent, Bethany Christian Services allegedly rejected Dana Dumont and her wife as prospective adoptive parents in Michigan. But a spokeswoman for Bethany repeatedly declined to elaborate on whether the organization has a national policy regarding LGBTQ families. “Our faith calls us to serve vulnerable children and families. To that end, while we will be compliant with the law, we also remain committed to advocating for our beliefs,” she said.
That suggests LGBTQ people have to contact Bethany’s local offices to find out whether they will be discriminated against. When a married lesbian mother called several Bethany offices on HuffPost’s behalf, she got confusing and sometimes discriminatory answers.
The person who answered the phone at a Bethany location in Virginia, for example, said the agency doesn’t work with gay and lesbian families on adoptions very often; families are typically referred to another agency in the same building. Bethany received more than $230,000 in federal and state funds through the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program between fiscal years 2015 and 2017, according to a Virginia Department of Social Services spokeswoman.
In North Carolina, a person answering adoption questions at one Bethany location said the agency isn’t working with gay and lesbian families in the state right now only because of “a marriage requirement,” that’s “like three years” — but claimed that “Bethany corporate” was re-evaluating the policy. HuffPost wasn’t able to get information about any possible payments to Bethany in North Carolina by the time of publication.
One city recently took decisive action against social service agencies that reportedly refused to work with LGBTQ people. Last year, Philadelphia reimbursed Bethany to the tune of $1,314,562 in city, state and federal funds to operate foster homes and gave Catholic Social Services $1,667,745. Upon learning in March of the agencies’ reported discrimination against LGBTQ people, city officials stopped foster care intake with them, pending an investigation, according to a city Department of Human Services spokeswoman.
Catholic Social Services has sued, accusing the city of religious discrimination; Philadelphia hopes to work out the differences before the two agencies’ contracts expire at the end of June, the spokeswoman said.
There’s a deeper question underlying this fight: Should longstanding religious agencies be required to work with everyone equally — even if some of them ultimately choose to shut down rather than work directly with LGBTQ people?
Some states have decided the answer is no. Although a handful of states explicitly prohibit discrimination against prospective parents on the basis of sexual orientation, most states and cities don’t have the same restrictions. And conservatives are pushing hard to pass religious freedom laws that could be used to facilitate discrimination: A number of states now have passed legislation that allows adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to serve certain families based on the agencies’ religious or moral beliefs.
Proponents of these laws say that forcing agencies to act against their religious beliefs may deprive states of partners with longstanding community ties, and argue that LGBTQ couples are free to work with other agencies. Foster care and adoption services balance delicate relationships between prospective parents, children, providers and birth families. Patrick Raglow, executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, said that for LGBTQ people, other agencies would be “much more likely to satisfy the relational aspects of this interaction.” (His organization does not get public funding for adoption or foster care services in Oklahoma.)
But it’s not always true that LGBTQ people can simply go somewhere else, said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign. In a place like Texas, she said, there might be a number of options in big cities, but “you’re going to have way fewer choices” in the northwest part of the state.
“If you’re receiving taxpayer funding, then whether or not you’re able to discriminate shouldn’t even be on the table,” Oakley added.
As the opioid crisis continues to lead to more children being placed in foster care, no qualified families or providers can be excluded, said Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of the nonprofit National Council For Adoption. He worries about the consequences of faith-based agencies shutting down.
Both sides say they want to do what’s best for children waiting for homes. But children adopted by LGBTQ couples fare as well as those adopted by straight couples, researchers have found, and that can get lost in the debate.
“There are not significant differences among the children in terms of their overall development, ” said Charlotte J. Patterson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who has studied adopted children in both kinds of families.
It’s when children languish without families, she said, that they are most likely to suffer.
Molly Redden contributed reporting.
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