Montana gay couple files bias complaint after losing foster child

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Keith Haring

A couple in Montana is filing a discrimination suit after they say state social workers took their foster child away because they are gay, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports.

“It seemed to us they really worked hard to find somebody else to take him instead of leaving him with us,” Joseph told the Chronicle.

Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services on Friday denied that its workers discriminated against the gay couple, noting that it “has placed and continues to place foster children with same-sex couples.”

Luis and Joseph Serrano picked up the a 5-week-old baby boy the newspaper calls TJ (not his real name) in March. Like most of Montana’s 3,200 foster children — a number that has more than doubled since 2008— the boy ended up in the system as a result of drug abuse.

“Evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of the increase of children in care is being driven by parental substance abuse that results in children being unsafe,” DPHHS communications specialist Chuck Council told the paper.

The DeSerranos were told that he tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine at birth and had been living with his mother in a car while his father was in jail for drugs. Despite the rough conditions in which the child started its life, the couple say they saw dramatic improvements after he started living with them.

But three months later, the couple learned the state would be removing the boy from their home to live with a distant relative.

While they were heartbroken by the news, the DeSerranos say they had become concerned after repeatedly hearing state social workers suggest that they might not get to keep the child because they’re gay, and men.

The couple initial received positive feedback, with one social working telling them not to worry, that they were doing a good job. But other employees made comments that gave them pause.

Joseph tells the Chronicle that the DPHHS employee responsible for signing off on all placements told the couple, in front of a foster care class full of people, they would always be at the bottom of the list for foster child placements.

“[She said] that other social workers wouldn’t want to work with us because we’re a gay couple, and because we’re two males,” Joseph says, adding that she covered herself by adding that she was “kind of joking.”

Another interaction served to solidify their fears:

They became worried when a Family Outreach specialist told them theirs would be “’a really hard case.’” Why? “’You know,’” she said.

They asked if she meant that the choice was between a gay couple and drug-addicted parents. “Yeah,” she said, “but don’t worry, I’ll talk to (the social worker).”

The couple says TJ was removed from their home and placed with a single young woman, “a stepdaughter to a stepbrother of the birth father,” Joseph said.
The state’s policy is to place children with a family member whenever possible. And while the DeSerrano’s don’t expect to get TJ back, they say they’re filing to complaint to prevent this from happening to other couples in the future. Montana law does not currently protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation, but the couple is hoping to prevail under federal precedents.

“We want to have children for the same reason anyone wants to have children. To see them grow up, get married, have children of their own. It’s part of the human condition,” Joseph says. “We signed up because we think we were doing something good, and we ran up against a brick wall.”

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