When Tristan Torres was 16 and placed in foster care after his mother kicked him out for being transgender, his new home was supposed to feel safe.
“The first inkling I had that this wasn’t going to be good was when (my foster mother) refused to call me by my preferred pronoun,” Torres said. “It progressed from there.”
He is now advocating for creating legislation that would better protect LGBT youth in the foster care system.
“What I went through could have been prevented,” he said.
Torres, 19, is expected to testify about his experiences when Assembly Bill 99 is introduced Monday in the Health and Human Services committee.
Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, D-Las Vegas, is sponsoring the bill, which would require social workers and potential foster parents to undergo training that would cover gender identity, using preferred pronouns and providing appropriate clothing.
“This would be a requirement for everyone in contact with LGBTQ youth, whether it’s directly or indirectly,” Araujo said. “So people know how to respond if they encounter a 6-year-old who identifies as male even though their gender marker (at birth) might be female.”
Mandated training doesn’t mean parents with certain religious views will be omitted from being caregivers or required to foster LGBT children, Araujo said. He said religious groups may oppose the bill.
The law would also require the Division of Child and Family Services of the Department of Health and Human Services to improve how issues are reported and resolved, said Denise Tanata, executive director for the Children’s Advocacy Alliance.
“When we were talking to the youth, often times they feel the people who they were suppose to talk to were often the people they felt discriminated against,” she said. “They tell us they don’t know who they can talk to or often have hard times getting hold of the right person.”
Tanata said legislation like this would have benefited Torres, who reunified with his family after nine months at his foster home.
During his time in foster care, Torres said his family made him feel uncomfortable, referred to transgender people as “she/hims” and even outed him at school.
“When I said something (to my foster mom) she essentially told me to suck it up,” he said.
The proposal has gained support from the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada and Children’s Advocacy Alliance and others.
Blue Montana, transgender program manager at the center, shuffled through the foster system until he was 9. He said Araujo’s legislation would have given him — and many LGBT youth Montana works with — more stability.
“I remember when I was 7, no one would take me because I identified as a boy,”said Montana, now 41. “They didn’t know what to do with me so they kept passing me around. A bill like this would have made a huge difference for me.”
Contact Michael Lyle at 702-387-5201 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mjlyle on Twitter.