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LGBTQ Advocacy Groups Urge Tennessee Governor to Veto New Adoption Bill

The bill risks exposing LGBTQ children in the state to religious abuse, conversion therapy and family rejection.

The Tennessee State Capitol is pictured in Nashville, Tennessee.

On Monday evening, Tennessee passed a bill allowing parents with “religious or moral beliefs” that being LGBTQ+ is wrong to adopt LGBTQ+ children. This bill could expose these children to harmful practices such as conversion therapy or familial rejection of their gender identity or sexuality. If signed into law, it could also come into conflict with federal rules that require safe placements for LGBTQ youth. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Lee’s desk, amid calls from leading LGBTQ+ organizations for a veto.

Senate Bill 1738, which passed on a party-line vote of 73-20, states that prospective foster parents cannot be required to “affirm, accept, or support” any policy regarding sexual orientation or gender identity if it conflicts with their “religious moral belief.” Furthermore, the bill mandates that non-affirming foster parents have access to LGBTQ+ children for fostering or adoption. It asserts that beliefs “regarding sexual orientation or gender identity… do not create a presumption that any particular placement is contrary to the best interest of the child.”

See the relevant provisions here:

Tennessee SB 1738.

Under this bill, Tennessee would be prohibited from deeming parents unfit for adoption if they reject transgender youth, believing such identities to be sinful. Similarly, the state would be required to allow parents who are religiously or morally opposed to homosexuality to adopt gay children. If a parent believes that conversion therapy through their church can “cure” LGBTQ+ identification, this belief cannot be considered contrary to the best interest of an LGBTQ+ child. The bill risks exposing every LGBTQ+ child in the state to potential religious abuse, conversion therapy, and family rejection.

This could be particularly harmful given the high overrepresentation of LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care system. For example, studies indicate that 30% of youth in the foster care system identify as LGBTQ+, and 5% as transgender. Many of these youth have faced rejection or abuse from their families of origin. They are also more likely to have a history of being subjected to conversion therapy. Placement with new families that subject them to the same harmful practices could have disastrous outcomes. LGBTQ+ youth who are subjected to conversion therapy are more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the previous year.

Representative Justin Jones had scathing words for the bill, stating, “I find it interesting that the word ‘moral’ is in this bill, because this bill is immoral. Discrimination cloaked under the guise of religion is still discrimination. Hate cloaked under the veil of religion is still hate… you stated that you want these kids to be sent into a home where they can be loved, where they can flourish. Can you explain the logic of a child being placed into a home where they are told they are wrong, that their identity is wrong, that they don’t belong, that they made a mistake with who they are? How can they flourish in such an environment?”

“This legislature has done everything that it can to bully LGBTQ+ children, and it is wrong. This legislature should be ashamed,” he closed.

Watch his critique here:

In response to the bill’s passage, Human Rights Campaign Associate Director Molly Whitehorn stated, “This bill turns the central principle of child welfare — that every decision should be made in service of the best interests of the child — on its head. It would prohibit government agents from refusing to place children in homes where the foster parents have declared that they will not support LGBTQ+-identifying children — even where the prospective foster parents have openly declared that they will subject children in their care to the abusive and discredited practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy’,” calling for the bill’s veto.

Tennessee Equality Project echoed those calls, stating in a press release, “This bill conflicts with proposed federal regulations,” and that its passage “presents risks to our state’s entire child welfare system.”

The bill will now go to Governor Lee’s desk, where it will be either vetoed or signed into law.

This piece was republished with permission from Erin In The Morning.

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