Firstly, I would like to wish everyone a happy LGBT+ History Month! This month is intended to honour the achievements and experiences of members of the community, and it is being celebrated all over the university. This month many people are bravely sharing their coming out stories, the bad and the good, in a show of pride and to raise awareness. In connection with this I thought I would take the opportunity to share an alternative view point, one that isn’t often explored; the process of coming out in foster care.
Coming out is a deeply personal experience to every individual that chooses to, or chooses not to, and it usually starts with those closest to you; your family. In foster care, family ties can be complicated to say the least; further complicating an already emotionally tenuous process. However, I can only speak from my experience as to what this entails, each story is as unique as the person and people at the centre of it, and this is my story.
When I was in secondary school I realised that I ‘wasn’t exactly straight’ as my fourteen-year-old label-fearing self would have said. That year alone I had passed through four different homes and three schools, I had been parted from my youngest sibling, and experienced the death of a parent. In regular circumstances, this would have been enough to deal with, but even at that age I knew that the odds were heavily stacked against me in terms of a happy and successful future. It is common knowledge that a disproportionate number of homeless youth are LGBT+, often having been rejected by parents and/or other family members. Another group of people that are more likely to experience homelessness are care leavers. (Care leaver is the term used to describe young adults that were previously in the care of their local authority, prior to becoming adults and leaving the foster system). I had learned over the years that being a foster kid made you different enough as it was, and since early childhood I had averaged a new home every six months, meaning that I was usually the new kid. This being said, the decision not to come out stemmed from both fear of the social rejection I would face and the complication of my housing situation. It is a little-known fact that teenage girls are considered the ‘least desirable’ demographic to foster, I knew that outing myself as gay would hinder the few options I had left should I need to move again. Several times in various foster placements I sat silently whilst carers and other kids alike made vaguely, and sometimes outright, homophobic statements. In one incident I was told, by a foster carer, that if I was gay I would have to move out as I would no longer be allowed to share the room with the other girl there. In this time my life was a tug of war between wanting to experience genuine openness and stability, and the fear of rejection for all that I was and all that I had been.
It took a long time, years spent trying to convince myself that I was worthy of acceptance and love. In this time, I encountered people who were there to support me no matter what, regardless of me not being their ‘real’ family, or having even been in their lives for very long. The fostering and leaving care systems are full of wonderful people who want to see you succeed, people who are kind and loving above all else. I found my family in the bratty twelve-year-old that came to live with me after my sixteenth birthday, and the poor woman that has had to put up with both of us ever since. My family is all my friends who have loved me through every house move, every trip out of and back into the closet, and all the regular chaos of life. Lastly, my family is the LGBT+ community and the network of care leavers and supporters that give me so much joy and hope.
This month, it is important to remember the additional problems faced by those in the LGBT+ Community that come from a variety of different backgrounds and beliefs. Our community consists of care leavers, and people with disabilities, BME people, and those from all kinds of religious backgrounds.
February is a time for all our voices to be heard.
By: Bronwen Beard