May is National Foster Care Month, a time to recognize and raise awareness for all those who are touched by the child welfare system. To honor this month, Board member and outspoken change-maker, Weston Charles-Gallo, shares his story and illustrates why the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act is so crucial for youth and families across the country.
Where to Begin
Where to begin? What to think? How to react?
There are more than 400,000 youth in foster care across the country. 1 in 3 youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ+, and LGBTQ+ adults are seven times more likely to foster and adopt than non-LGBTQ+ adults. And yet, there is no federal law protecting LGBTQ+ youth or prospective LGBTQ+ parents from discrimination in child welfare services.
In fact, in several states, it’s still legal to turn away qualified parents from adopting and fostering because of who they are and whom they love. And so far in 2022, there have been more than 300 bills targeting LGBTQ+ people introduced in states across the country.
At what point will enough be enough?
May is National Foster Care Month, a time to elevate the stories of LGBTQ+ youth and families affected by the broken child welfare system. But this work cannot be limited to 31 days. Every single day of our lives, we are fighting for a better world. We are fighting for a world where LGBTQ+ people can live their lives authentically and create families unconditionally and where LGBTQ+ youth in foster care have rights, are protected, and are in loving, safe, and affirming homes.
My personal story shows why this work is so important.
Masking who I was
I entered the foster care system at the age of 14 before finding my forever family with my two dads and six siblings. Ever since, I’ve been advocating because I believe that every child deserves a family, and every LGBTQ+ couple who wants to be, deserves to be a parent.
In my lived experience in foster care, I often felt so alone. I masked who I was because I felt a sense of shame and guilt for simply just being me. I felt like a chameleon, recreating who I was for others. I was lost, broken, and unsure of the world around me. It wasn’t until my two dads showed me that I was worthy of being loved that I saw my potential to be anything I wanted to be. Before I was placed with my dads, I never thought that I would find a family that would affirm my sexuality, embrace my feminine qualities, or understand who I was.
Nondiscrimination saves lives
And because of that experience, I have one thing to say: Nondiscrimination ultimately saves lives. The Trevor Project conducted a survey that found that nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth considered attempting suicide in the past year. That is one less child who may grow up to be on the Supreme Court, or on Broadway, or in Hollywood. And in my case, that could have been one less individual graduating from college with the goal to give a TedTalk and share his story across the country.
The unconditional love and support that my dads have given me make me want to fight for other LGBTQ+ youth and families everywhere. They took me in at my worst and embraced the good, the bad, and the indifferent. One thing that I will always remember my dad, Eric Charles-Gallo, telling me is “No matter what, You are imperfectly perfect.”
I have learned through overcoming my own personal trauma that being gay does not define who I am but it is a part of the young man I have become. I am a resilient, determined college graduate and national LGBTQ+ foster care activist.
As I think about this past year and all of the chaos around us when it comes to LGBTQ+ youth and family policy, it is disheartening that people in power don’t want to hear our stories. Instead of taking time to understand where we came from and the trauma and obstacles we overcame, they want to implement practices that tear us down because of their own personal bias.
We have to understand that these young people shape our future—and they’re not being heard, cared for, or affirmed. LGBTQ+ youth in care are being placed in residential and group homes because of the lack of affirming families, and it is LGBTQ+ couples that want to give those youth a second chance and a life that they are worthy of. Discriminatory adoption and foster care bills must be stopped and repealed, at both the state and federal levels.
The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act
We need to pass laws and policies that protect the voices of LGBTQ+ youth and youth in foster care, and that includes formally ending discrimination in adoption and foster care. The John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act would do just that, promoting the best interests of all children in the foster care and adoption system by prohibiting discrimination, supporting families of origin, promoting family acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth, and increasing access to affirming, loving and stable homes for all children in care.
I support this bill because I know that LGBTQ+ youth and families are no different than non-LGBTQ+ individuals. We all have feelings, emotions, and good and bad days. We all have jobs and families, and we all contribute to society. We deserve to be seen. We deserve to be heard. And, ultimately, we deserve to have the same rights and respect as anyone else in this country.
Board Member, Family Equality
Weston entered the foster care system at age 14 when his biological parents neglected him for identifying as gay. After hospitalizations, shelters, and foster home placements, he was in care for one year before he found his forever family with his two dads and six siblings. Now, he is an LGBTQ youth advocate for youth with lived experience in foster care, while highlighting the importance for same-sex couples to foster and adopt. He was a member of the Youth Speak Out Team in KCMO, which worked to raise awareness of the experiences of foster youth and the challenges they face. Weston worked alongside that team on a Bill of Rights for Foster Care Youth and in the summer of 2017, the bill was passed and signed by the Governor of Missouri. He is a former Youth Ambassador for the Human Rights Campaign, where he continued to share his journey and raise awareness for LGBTQ issues that youth across the country face every day. He was honored with the FosterClub Outstanding Young Leader Award for his continuous work advocating for LGBTQ+ youth with lived experience in foster care. Weston now is a part of an advocacy leadership team working to pass the John Lewis Every Child Deserves A Family Act as well as becoming a spokesperson for the Adopt US Kids speakers bureau. Recently he testified before Congress before the Ways and Means committee on ” How to Make the Lives of Foster Care Youth and Families Better.” From that, he was nominated and awarded a Good News Hero Award by LGBTQ Nation. He has been featured on NBC News, Yahoo News, Proud Parenting, the Daily Beast, and USA Today. He is also a recent graduate of Pittsburg State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies with an interest in public relations and political communication.