HARRISBURG, Pa. — Today, four LGBT organizations in Pennsylvania participated in a friend-of-the-court brief signed by a total of 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 amicus brief was filed by Lambda Legal.
The Pennsylvania amici are the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, the Mazzoni Center, the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, and the William Way LGBT Community Center.
Jasper Oberlander, a Pennsylvania Youth Congress Ambassador from Lycoming County in northern Pennsylvania, shared, “As a trans youth growing up in Pennsylvania’s foster care system, I know the struggle of waiting for a family to take me home. For many of us, adoption never even becomes an option and we end up being raised in group homes and youth shelters. This is especially true for LGBT youth in foster care. Everyone deserves a loving and safe home, but allowing for discrimination will cause significant harm by leaving more children in the system without the chance to have a family. No public funding should ever allow for the hostility of discrimination.”
“As Philadelphia’s LGBT Community Center, we have seen historically the harmful impact of discrimination against LGBT foster parents and the children they foster, namely fewer qualified foster parents to serve the great demand. The Center is the site for training LGBT and ally foster parents in the region– precisely to meet the demand for foster parents who bring sensitivity to serve the many LGBT youth seeking a family home placement. A religious exemption should not be a tool to discriminate against these LGBT foster parents or the children they protect.” said Chris Bartlett, Executive Director of Philadelphia’s William Way LGBT Community Center.
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.
The amicus brief alerts 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.
Thomas Ude, Jr., Legal and Public Policy Director at Mazzoni Center added, “Mazzoni Center’s mission is to affirm the health, wellness, and dignity of the people we serve. We help trauma survivors, including LGBTQ survivors, every day. Catholic Charities wants money from Philadelphians to pay it to discriminate against Philadelphians. This time, it’s mainly against LGBTQ adults, but that also hurts children. Every LGBTQ adult, coupled or not, carries scars from childhood bias. Philadelphia’s rule protects LGBTQ children and adults against discriminatory bias and against more trauma. If an agency wants to serve Philadelphia’s children, it should agree to respect the full dignity of those children. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
“Providers of foster care services should be leading the way when it comes to the provision of affirming and inclusive care for the youth they serve. Instead, Catholic Social Services has dug their heels all the way to the Supreme Court in their unapologetic desire to discriminate. LGBTQ youth already face substantial barriers to receiving the love and support they need. Discriminatory treatment in foster care only adds trauma to youth already burdened with systemic challenges. That’s why Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center joined as Amici in this brief.” said Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.
In addition to Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Mazzoni Center, Pennsylvania Youth Congress, and William Way LGBT Community Center, amici include Lambda Legal, CenterLink; The Trevor Project; The True Colors Fund; 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); 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.
Authoring the brief were Lambda Legal attorneys M. Currey Cook and Senior Counsel Jennifer Pizer. The case is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress advances freedom and justice for young LGBT Pennsylvanians through advocating for responsible public policy. As a youth-led organization, PYC represents citizens working toward safer schools and thriving communities across the commonwealth. More information: payouthcongress.org
The William Way LGBT Community Center encourages, supports, and advocates for the well-being and acceptance of sexual and gender minorities in the Greater Philadelphia region through services and recreational, educational, and cultural programming. More information: waygay.org
The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center provides arts, health, youth, and pride programs to celebrate and support the LGBT community in the Greater Lehigh Valley. More information: bradburysullivancenter.org
The Mazzoni Center is Philadelphia’s leading health center focused on the needs of the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community. Mazzoni Center’s mission is to provide quality comprehensive health and wellness services in an LGBTQ-focused environment, while preserving the dignity and improving the quality of life of the individuals it serves. More information: mazzonicenter.org