In May 2023, national suicide prevention and LGBTQ+ advocacy group the Trevor Project released a study of mental health among LGBTQ+ youth. The picture it painted was bleak.
Among the findings, 41 percent of LGBTQ+ youth considered suicide in the past year, over half reported being unable to get the mental health care they wanted, and less than 40 percent said they found their home to be affirming of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
For youth in the foster care system—where LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented nearly threefold compared with the general population—things are even worse, with three times the risk of suicide, and nearly four times the risk of getting kicked out or abandoned due to their identity.
With such data in mind, Oregon- and Portland-focused advocacy organizations Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) and Unicorn Solutions have partnered with Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) to hold a virtual event for families interested in fostering LGBTQ+ youth.
The simply named Resource (Foster) Parent Recruitment event is aimed at finding more "loving, affirming, and culturally competent" homes where queer youths can thrive. But BRO Communications Manager Blair Stenvick (who is also, full disclosure, a former Mercury editor) says it's first and foremost informational, with no pressure or obligation to sign up.
“Foster parenting is something that a lot of people think about, and a lot of queer people think about,” Stenvick told the Mercury, “but it’s hard to take that leap from thinking about it to signing up for trainings… We want as many folks as possible to attend and learn more, even if they’re not ready in that moment.”
Stenvick is a foster parent and described taking on the responsibility as "one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s also the best thing I’ve ever done."
A term like resource parent will be new vocabulary to some. It's often used as an umbrella term for both foster and adoptive parents, but can also describe someone with training for both possibilities—the emphasis being on what the foster youth needs. And it's an example of something you might not know that you could find out at the meeting.
Formerly held in-person at the Q Center in pre-pandemic times, the info session was rebooted in a Zoom environment last October, drawing roughly 50 attendees—a number that organizers are expecting to surpass this time around. Tuesday, June 20, will be its second virtual iteration.
“It’s the best option because that way we can reach out to folks statewide all at once,” Stenvick said. “That’s really important, because there’s an even higher need for foster parents in general—especially affirming foster parents—in more remote areas of the state.”
Tuesday's event will include a panel of speakers, LGBTQ+ youth currently or formerly in the foster care system, and affirming foster parents themselves. Among those speaking is founder of Unicorn Solutions Elliott Hinkle, who is also involved with facilitating the planning and other administrative details of the event. At the age of 15, Hinkle, who is trans, found themself in the foster care system of Wyoming.
“In many ways, it sort of saved my life,” Hinkle told the Mercury. “But I also don't feel like I went into care and got to be myself entirely… A lot of young people end up in care having to decide, ‘Do I get to be myself, or do I get to have a family?’”
After aging out of the program—and being pressured into conversion therapy by a Wyoming church in the process—Hinkle made their way to the Pacific Northwest, where they studied gender and sexuality at Portland State (“Eff you” to the people back in Wyoming, Hinkle said, in an aside) and spent the following eight years as an advocate and consultant. In 2021, they founded Unicorn Solutions, where they work to support LBGTQ+ youth affected by foster care and mental health systems.
With growing numbers of LGBTQ+ youth out in this day and age, they noted the need for affirming foster care is more important now than ever. “You have the opportunity to change someone’s life,” they said. “And it might actually change yours, too."
Basic Rights Oregon's Resource (Foster) Parent Recruitment Event will take place remotely Tues, June 20, 6 pm. It's free, but attendees should sign up in advance.