Pride Month Guest Blog Post by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara

June 30, 2021

CACFS Pride Month Blog Post

Guest Blog post by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara

In the 170 years of California statehood, we have elected hundreds of Californians who have raised their right hand and sworn the oath of statewide office. Until I was sworn in as California’s Insurance Commissioner in 2019, not one was openly gay. I didn’t run for office to make history. I ran to make a difference in the lives of millions of Californians, including to fight for the right of all Californians to live their lives and pursue their dreams openly and safely.

One issue I have always been invested in during my service in public office is protecting our vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth.

While I was serving in the California State Legislature, our state was shocked by the murders of two vulnerable children in Los Angeles, Anthony Avalos and Gabriel Fernandez. Reports said that their gender identity – or the perception that they were gay – played a part in why they were targeted. This heartbreaking failure to protect these foster children demanded action. It also demanded that we raise awareness about the needs for our LGBTQ+ youth in our foster care system.

After Anthony Avalos’ death in 2018, I called for a state audit of the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the state’s largest child welfare agency, to determine whether DCFS was doing enough to protect our children, including LGBTQ+ youth. A DCFS official reported that Anthony may have come out as gay to his foster family prior to his death.

It had been six years since the State Auditor last audited DCFS’ child safety measures in 2012, and it was heartbreaking to me that anti-gay attitudes may have played a role in both Anthony’s and Gabriel’s deaths. And I continue to push for reforms to protect our LGBTQ+ youth, including authoring the “Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act” law, which regulates the residential treatment program industry notorious for abusing and harming LGBTQ+ youth while trying to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2018, I co-authored Senate Concurrent Resolution 137, which designated the month of May as National Foster Care Month in the State of California. It recognized the extraordinary role that LGBTQ+ parents play in the foster care system, as well as the unique challenges for LGBTQ+ foster youth in California. It called upon all Californians to strengthen our collective efforts to ensure stability and improved outcomes for LGBTQ+ foster youth in the state.

The statistics show that LGBTQ+ youth are nearly two times more likely to be in foster care because of mistreatment and rejection by their families and at school because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Currently, there are nearly 55,000 youths in California’s child welfare system, and while we do not know exactly how many of those children identify as LQBTQ+, we do know that they are more likely to be treated poorly in the foster care system, tend to have a higher number of placements, and have a higher likelihood of living in group homes. We know that LGBTQ+ children have a higher likelihood of aging out of the foster care system without finding a forever family which, in turn, puts them at an increased risk of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and early parenthood.

So why is this happening? One of the major causes is continued intolerance in our society and I believe that organizations who support our youth should play a critical role in training staff and volunteers to recognize and prevent abuse, including for our LGBTQ+ youth.

This year, I am proud to sponsor Assembly Bill 506, authored by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that would guarantee youth organizations have proactive measures in place to ensure that incidents of abuse are caught early on. In addition, the bill would increase transparency by allowing liability insurance companies to review a youth organization’s compliance with these standards prior to insuring any insurance policy. By mandating crucial anti-child abuse training by youth volunteers, we can increase our ability to protect our LGBTQ+ youth.    

Another large, mostly untapped resource for foster and adoptive homes is the LGBTQ+ community – individuals and families who are six times more likely to foster children than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. Unfortunately, due to long-held discrimination and fear, our community is not able to participate in a way that would change the lives of so many children, during the most vulnerable time in their lives.  

As we close out Pride Month, we need all those who work with our children and young adults to continue to recognize the special needs of our LGBTQ+ youth. These young people are the future of our state, and we have so much work left to do as we move toward a more inclusive and accepting way of life for all Californians.

I sincerely thank you all for what you do to lead change and serve all children, youth, and their families every day in our state.

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