This National Foster Care Month, the HRC Foundation and FosterClub are excited to once again promote the #FosterEquality campaign. By sharing stories of LGBTQ youth in foster care, we hope to bring their experiences to life and encourage everyone to support LGBTQ foster youth. We start with the story of Russell Barnes and his foster care experience.
Originally from Minneapolis’ eastern suburbs, Barnes entered the Minnesota foster care system at the age of 13 when he was still figuring out his sexual orientation. Like far too many LGBTQ young people, Barnes received disparaging messages from peers at school and some of his foster parents.
“Every day at school, I’d hear at least one remark on the assumption that I was ‘gay.’ When they said things like this, it often sounded like they thought less of me, as a result. I felt like a second-class citizen.” Barnes explained. “One time, I wore my new pair of aqua green skinny jeans and someone told me my jeans were ‘gay.’ I brought it up to my foster mom in the car and she told me that I was ‘asking for it’ due to my wardrobe.”
Experiences like these added to his anxiety and depression and intensified his struggle with an eating disorder.
Fortunately, Barnes’ final foster home showed true support and acceptance.
“When I [came out to] my foster parents, they didn’t freak out,” he said. “They just treated it as a fact of life. I felt accepted. I felt respected. I felt loved.”
As a FosterClub All-Star, Barnes is now advocates to make foster care systems more welcoming for LGBTQ youth. He stresses the importance of allowing young people to be in control of how and when they share information about their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“While society has come a long way regarding LGBTQ rights, it has a long way to go,” he observed. “Most importantly, no one should ever feel ‘forced’ to come out.”
HRC’s All Children – All Families project works with adoption and foster care agencies nationwide to ensure that agency staff implement best practices so that LGBTQ youth feel accepted in their placements and given the opportunity to thrive.