Timothy: I am who I am. I’m not going to change for anybody. I never have. I never will. And that’s caused me a lot of grief in my lifetime, but that’s the only way you can be.
Timothy: At age six or seven, I was removed from my mother and given to a guardian. My mother was going to jail for a DUI. A guardian was the next best option. Things were going okay with her when we’re young. Four years later that turned into physical and verbal abuse. Eventually sexual abuse from someone else. At the age of 12, I finally had enough and was acting out and was placed into foster care due to being unruly. Went to my first foster home, lasted there 11 days, and was kicked out of there and went to my second foster home. Was there almost two years.
Timothy: Once again more verbal, physical, emotional, sexual abuse. Done what I had to do to get out of there. It wasn’t the most appropriate, but nobody was listening to me in the State. I went to several more foster homes and group homes. At one point, I was placed into a faith-based organization and of course being LGBT I was basically forbidden to be myself. Anything with them was basically “What can we do to turn you straight.” They wouldn’t directly say that, but that was my impression of them the whole time based on their actions and the therapy they would force upon me. They wanted to keep putting me in cognitive behavioral therapy thinking that it was going to change me. At one point, I was placed in a town where the only LGBT person that was out was completely shunned, and it was almost like even though they had homes in other counties, they placed me in that one particular county.
Timothy: I knew that being in that organization that it wasn’t going to be a good fit, but I had no option of saying “I don’t want to be here.” I was still placed with them for almost three years. Finally, it took me cutting and a suicide attempt to get out of that organization because finally, they brought my level of care up. Eventually overcame that at 17 and aged out at 18. Been on my own since. So, I am now 23 years old. I’ll be 24 in March. Been out of foster care for almost five years. Work two full-time jobs, and go to school full time. I do case management, and I am also a high school special education teaching assistant.
Timothy: I’ve always been a helper. If you don’t help someone, I feel like there’s nothing else for you to do, so the day I quit helping will probably be the day that I’m rolled out on a stretcher. I am a drag queen, and my name is [Shania 00:02:38]. I do that just for fun and kind of as a way to show other young people that you don’t have to be afraid of who you are. Still do a lot of advocating especially for LGBTQ youth and recruitment of foster parents for teens. One of the things that I’ve really been pushing for was more education to the foster parents, to the social services, to the public in general that we’re normal human beings. There’s nothing different about us. You don’t have to be afraid of who you are.
Timothy, a student and case worker in Knoxville Tennessee, is a FosterClub Leader and foster care alumni who shares his story to advocate for life-changing policies to support LGBTQ foster youth.
He remembers entering foster care at the age of 12 and being afraid to be his full self, scared of the ramifications of living in an un-affirming foster care home. Timothy’s first placement was not supportive of his LGBTQ identity in any way: he recalls being berated for his identity and experiencing several forms of abuse. And his second placement was no better.
“When I left this foster home, I was placed with a religious organization that was openly against the LGBTQ community,” Timothy recalls.
Unfortunately, for many LGBTQ foster youth, this experience is all too common. Religious-based agencies often discriminate against qualified same-sex prospective parents, and refuse to take into account the needs and concerns of LGBTQ youth. In support of youth and families everywhere, Family Equality Council is advocating for the Every Child Deserves a Family Act to put the needs of LGBTQ youth and families first. Putting LGBTQ youth at the center of care can literally save their lives; an outcome that Timothy knows all about.
“I know that limiting families for children and youth in foster care results in harm. It comes down to a feeling of safety. When I was in care, I knew I couldn’t reveal my identity to my foster parents; if I did, they would kick me out. Keeping my identity secret took a huge toll on me; I self-harmed and entertained thoughts of suicide.”
Once he left the religious organization, he was sent to a congregate care setting where staff were accepting of who he was. Timothy was supported in being his full self and he remembers a completely different experience in which he no longer had to hide who he was in order to feel safe.
“I eventually found supportive adults who were willing to accept and value me and my identity. I’m thankful for their care; because of them, I no longer had to hide who I was.”
Since then, Timothy has been an advocate with Foster Club, sharing his story with policymakers and lobbying for change. He also works as a case manager to connect LGBTQ youth to find loving, supportive forever homes. And at 23, he’s just getting started.
“I plan on becoming a foster home with a preference of LGBTQ youth so that they know that they have a loving and safe environment to express themselves,” Timothy said.