Tristan: I grew up in Nevada. I am a native of Las Vegas, and I grew up in a house with my biological mom and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend was kind of the guy that ruined me. When I was 15 1/2, I had the opportunity to come out of the closet. Any time you come out, you take the risk of being isolated and being rejected. I came out to my mom by sitting her down, and I said, “Mom, I have something to tell you.” I told her that I was trans, and then she started crying, and she would say things like, “You killed my daughter.” She was very clear that she would only love me conditionally, and the condition was that I would be a Christian, and that I would be a girl. Since I was neither of those things, that’s when she withdrew her support, if there was any to begin with.
Tristan: Pretty shortly after I came out, about six months or so, there was a CPS worker at my door who asked me and my parents some questions, and in the same day that she came, she took me out of the house. So my first foster home with this foster mother, she said that she had a cousin who was transgender, so she knew about all of the special issues that I would be impacted by, but that turned out to be false. She ended up telling me to not talk or socialize with her biological kids. What upset her the most was when they asked me questions about gender and gender identity. In her words, I was turning them trans. She’d really drive home the point that my gender was unchangeable. It was something that was fixed, and no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to change it.
Tristan: Anytime that I told anyone about what would happen … I went to my case worker. I went to my therapist. I went to someone who I thought could help. They told me that I shouldn’t get upset when I’m misgendered because it was only natural since I looked like a girl. I remember my second foster parent calling me a transvestite and a freak. Those were the words that he used when he was talking to me, and I told caseworkers about it. They said that they were going to investigate it and file a report, but nothing ever happened.
Tristan: The whole way that I got placed with these families, is they were asked one question. They were asked if they would take a transgender foster youth, and if they answered yes, then they could take in a transgender foster youth. They didn’t have to take any classes. There was no required training. They really weren’t prepared to take me. Even though they thought they were, even if they had family members that were transgender, or they knew someone that was transgender, that doesn’t prepare you to take in a transgender foster youth that’s going to be living in your home with you. I was only in the foster care system for nine months, but what I did experience, is going to live with me for the rest of my life.
Tristan: AB-99, it’s probably the best thing that I’ve done with my life. I went to Carson City in 2016 and I spoke to the legislative session for an event called Children’s Week. It’s where foster youth go to the state capital to talk about what could be changed in foster care to improve our system, and my main focus was LGBTQ issues. Obviously I had experienced a lot of discrimination because of my status as an LBGTQ foster youth, and I didn’t want that to happen to anyone else.
Tristan: AB-99 is a statewide law in Nevada. It puts protections in place for LGBTQ foster youth. For example, there’s a grievance system that if you are experiencing discrimination, you can go and report your grievance without experiencing retaliation from anyone associated with your case. One other thing that it does, it puts a mandatory training in place for anyone that is working directly with the youth, so any staff members of a childcare facility, any staff members of a child welfare agency, any foster parents are required to undergo this training. It does provide some insight into taking care of LGBTQ kids. In the end, it was supported by both parties. It was a bipartisan vote, and it got passed through the legislature with very minimal opposition.
Tristan: Everyone says that I’m brave. I don’t think I’m brave. I just did something that needed to be done because no one else was doing it. Now I’m 21. I live in my own apartment. I don’t rely on anyone else for my finances but me, and that’s huge. There’s a big problem with foster youth with aging out of the system where they have no financial resources, and a lot of the time, that leads to homelessness. Right now, I’m currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in social work at the University of Las Vegas, and eventually I would like to go to law school. I would like to do federal work. I want to work on the national level, and I want to protect my community. I really want to do work with transgender activism, and I want to speak from my experiences. All I want to do is make tomorrow a better day than it was yesterday.
For many LGTBQ youth, coming out means risking the loss of family and community support. The drastic changes that can unfold after losing the home where you grew up, or a school you attended for most of your young life can be a painful burden to bear. The hurt and pain from that experience are compounded for youth who find themselves in the foster care system, where LGBTQ youth are often subjected to further bigotry and intolerance.
Such was the case with Tristan Torres, Foster Club Young Leader and a trans youth in Nevada, who was just 16-years-old when his mother kicked him out and he was placed in foster care. During his nine months in the foster care system, he faced many adverse experiences because of his identity — from being intentionally misgendered, to being discouraged from receiving support from the local LGBTQ center.
Now, at the age of 21, Tristan is proudly living completely on his own, preparing to one day go to law school, and serving as a vocal advocate for LGBTQ foster youth. He’s worked with Foster Club in advocacy work with Foster and Adoptive Youth Together, and used the power of his personal story to successfully lobby for the advancement of Nevada’s Assembly Bill 99.
For our #StatesOfEquality series, Tristan shares how when he was in the foster care system, LGBTQ foster youth had no agency in determining where they could be placed. Tristan recalls his former case workers and foster parents being uninformed about gender identity and issues LGBTQ youth face.
“When I would tell my foster mom about the type of bullying I was experiencing at school, she just told me to ‘suck it up’ and that I should expect this type of treatment because I am different,” Tristan said.
Nevada Assembly Bill 99 provides new protections for children placed in a child welfare and juvenille detention facility who are LGBTQ. The bill was signed into law in 2017 by Governor Brian Sandoval. The measure requires child welfare workers and foster parents to undergo training for serving LGBTQ youth. The bill also mandates that any facility must treat children according to the gender they identify with, or the child’s gender expression.
Tristan is empowered by seeing the effects of his advocacy and is looking forward to continuing to make change for LGBTQ youth in the future.