Looking Out: Efforts to improve care for LGBT foster youth in Maryland expand

Trainings continue in Md. to better prepare foster care providers for LGBT youth

Nowadays, when Ann Marie Binsner holds trainings for foster care providers on ways to provide safe environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids, there is "always the choir" of attendees who understand the need and are eager to learn.

But there are still those who are "closed to the work," as well, Binsner said -- and they're the ones who need the information the most.

"We're not going to change everyone's mind tomorrow, but we most definitely need to make sure that those individuals who are working with our young people aren't doing further harm, and have a few tools in their pockets for how to handle the young people who come through their door," she said.

Binsner, who is executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, in Prince George's County, has developed a reputation in the state for her work on the issue. She helped start a LGBTQ Task Force in Prince George's County in 2006 -- well ahead of the curve in directing attention to the issue -- and has now helped train more than 1,000 care providers across the state on the needs of LGBT youth.

This year, the effort expanded once more, with Binsner and her colleagues tapping Baltimore-based Free State Legal to help boost their training efforts to the next level.

The issue is as critical as ever, Binsner said.

Last year, LGBT advocates in Maryland with the nonprofit coalition Youth Equality Alliance released a report calling on state officials to increase services in several key areas for such youth: education, juvenile services and foster care. They cited national statistics that show LGBT youth represent a disproportionate percentage of homeless kids on America's streets, and that they are commonly subjected to verbal harassment and bullying in a variety of public service arenas.

Following the report, the Maryland Judiciary held a summit on the issue for brainstorming solutions and connecting people across the state with available resources. Judge William O. Carr, the Harford County judge who ran the event, said at the time that estimates show 20 percent of foster youth nationally identify as LGBT.

Kids who face rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are at higher risk of suicide, substance abuse and other issues, Binsner said -- and the adults in their lives can make a big difference through acceptance. More care providers understand that these days than ever before, she said, but her hope is that one day all of them will.

"I have definitely seen more openness. I have seen fewer examples of very egregious behavior, I can say that. And I am very glad to be able to say that. However, there is still a lot for people to learn," she said. "There are a lot of foster families and service providers who still have limited experience with the LGBT population and continue to believe certain myths and misinformation and require deep training on just the facts and becoming comfortable with someone who is different from them."

Trainings, she said, will continue to be provided all across the state.

Elsewhere in LGBT-related news:

- Heads up: Head south. This weekend is Capital Pride in D.C.! It's the event's 40th anniversary, so there is a lot going on, and just a short trip or train ride away. Not that it's all perfect, according to Washington City Paper. Has pride become too commercialized?

- The Baltimore chapter of GLSEN is having a cookout this Sunday in Towson.

- What happens if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against same-sex marriage this month? Who knows, but there could be legal chaos for gay and lesbian couples.

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