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Senate approves bill establishing a right to foster, adopt by anti-LGBTQ parents in Tennessee

A bill that could lead to LGBTQ youth being placed in families with moral or religious objections to their sexual orientation or gender identity was approved by the Tennessee Senate on Tuesday.

By Anita Wadhwani, Tennessee Lookout - March 22, 2024
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Potesters of Kentucky Senate bill SB150, known as the Transgender Health Bill, cheer on speakers during a rally on the lawn of the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., March 29, 2023.
Protesters of Kentucky Senate bill SB150, known as the Transgender Health Bill, cheer on speakers during a rally on the lawn of the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., March 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

A bill that could lead to LGBTQ youth being placed in families with moral or religious objections to their sexual orientation or gender identity was approved by the Tennessee Senate on Tuesday.

The Tennessee Foster and Adoptive Parent Protection Act would prohibit the Department of Children’s Services from excluding parents who have moral or religious objections to LGBTQ identity and want to foster or adopt a child in state custody.

The bill would “not preclude” DCS from taking a child’s feelings into account before placing them in a family’s home — but does not require the agency to do so.

Sponsors of the bill, including Rep. Mary Littleton, have said the measure would expand the pool of willing foster parents. Despite plain language in the bill that says that a parent with anti-LGBTQ beliefs would not be “contrary to the best interest” of a child — including one who is gay or transgender —Littleton said her intent was to ensure kids in foster care are matched with the most suitable parents.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, called the measure “cruel.”

“I just think that you shouldn’t be able to deny somebody’s basic existence because you say it affronts your religious or moral beliefs,” she said. “That is between you and your god. It should not be something that potentially makes a child feel unwelcome and challenges who they are to their very core.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior director of legal policy for the Human Rights Campaign, called the proposal “wrong and a violation of federal law.”

“The best interest of the child is supposed to be the central organizing principle of all decisions made in the child welfare system,” Oakley said.

The bill, Oakley said, “upends this, instead centering the interests of potential foster and adoptive parents, including those who attest they would subject a child in their care to the abusive and discredited practice of conversion therapy.”

The U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services last year proposed new rules for placement of LGBTQI+ youth in foster care, including that homes “establish an environment free of hostility, mistreatment, or abuse based on the child’s LGBTQI+ status.”

In November, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti led a 17-state coalition opposing the rules, saying in a letter to the federal government that they would shrink the pool of available foster families and “further divert resources away from protecting foster children from physical abuse and toward enforcing compliance with controversial gender ideology.”

The bill goes next to the House floor for a approval before landing on Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.

This story was originally published in the Tennessee Lookout


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