Written by Debra Guston
Experts tell us that since demographic information has been gathered on out of home children (kids who are homeless, in foster care or in the criminal justice system), close to 40% of them self-identify as LGBTQ – lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, or questioning/queer. These kids are so over-represented in “the system” that it is incumbent on all involved with out of home youth to be culturally competent to successfully assist these kids. How to do that? First, we need to speak their language and understand the words they and we use. Second, we need to be able to create safe spaces in which they can talk and grow. And third, we need more LGBTQ adults and those with close ties to the LGBTQ communities in New Jersey to foster, work with CASA and other organizations to provide services.
Becoming culturally competent starts with the basics.
- First and foremost, sexual orientation and gender identity are NOT the same thing. They are terms that should not be used interchangeably.
- Being gay or lesbian or bisexual is a definition of a person’s romantic and physical attraction to another person. These are innate qualities and “choices” or “life styles.”
- Being transgender is a status of being assigned a sex (male or female) at birth, but knowing innately that your true sex is not that which you were assigned. Being transgender is also an innate qualities and not a “choice” or “life style.” Being medically diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” means being a transgender person for whom life in the wrong body and identity is no longer tolerable – to the point of consideration of suicide if unable to transition to their true sex.
- For young people, the letter “Q” stands for those Questioning either their sexual orientation or gender identity or is an empowered, self-defining use of the word “Queer.” Since “queer” can be used derogatorily, it should never be used to describe someone else – unless they themselves use the term to self-define.
For children involved with DCPP or in the criminal justice system, fear of discovery can be horrible concern on top of the other issues they share with all other out of home children. Safe spaces – welcoming resource and respite homes, compassionate and accepting adults with whom to interact and an ability to be free to be themselves are necessary components of a successful outcome for LGBTQ kids. But finding a pathway to safe spaces means we need to interact and an ability to be free to be themselves are necessary components of a successful outcome for LGBTQ kids. Relationships with CASA advocates can be a great start for LGBTQ kids. Learning and expanding your own horizons and welcoming LGBT adults into CASA and other organizations and systems that are welcoming and accepting will ensure better outcomes for LGBTQ kids.
What is a CASA volunteer? A trained CASA volunteer gathers information for the court. He or she recommends to the judge what the child needs to be safe and what is in the child’s best interest in securing a permanent home. A CASA volunteer advocates for a speedy decision that considers a child’s sense of time. You can find your nearest CASA program by visiting National CASA’s website here.
A Big Thank You to Debra E. Guston! Debra E. Guston is a partner in the law firm of Guston & Guston, L.L.P., Glen Rock, NJ. She graduated cum laude from Mount Holyoke College, holds a M.A. from Emerson College and received her J.D. from Cardozo School of Law. In her practice, Ms. Guston represents a broad spectrum of clients in family matters; adoptions; estate planning, litigation and administration; non-profit formation and management and other practice areas designed to meet the needs of the LGBT and general communities. Ms. Guston has represented over 820 lesbian and gay individuals and couples in primary and second parent and interstate adoptions and represented the first couples in Morris, Ocean and Passaic Counties to be granted second parent adoptions, all before the New Jersey Appellate Division’s approval of such adoptions. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys and new member of the Academies’ Board of Trustees.
Ms. Guston is currently President of the Board of Trustees of ACLU-NJ. Ms. Guston is a past Chair of the LGBT Rights Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association and a current member of the NJSBA’s Family Law Section Executive Committee and its Adoption/Reproductive Rights Committee Co-Chair. Ms. Guston is a member of the Executive Committee of the LGBT Family Law Institute, a joint project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National LGBT Bar Association that brings together attorneys experienced in LGBT family law and related fields. She is also a member of NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Committee.