Lesbian seeks legal action against the federal government after being denied by foster agenc

A Tennessee woman was a foster parent for refugee children, but was denied due to her sexuality.

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An Tennessee woman has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services following a federally-funded foster care agency denied her application due to the fact that she was an openly gay woman.

Kelly Easter, who is from Nashville She was interested in applying to become a foster mother of children from refugee camps who were not accompanied according to her lawsuit filed on Wednesday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement directed her to Bethany Christian Services, the only organization that is part of the program within her area and a sub-grantee of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that receives federal funding to provide foster care services.

Bethany was a firm believer of not allowing LGBTQ parent applicants for foster or adoption and made it impossible for Easter to apply this year.

Then, in March Bethany stopped the policy however, when Easter made an application the following month, she was turned down. A representative from Bethany informed her that its East Nashville office is funded by USCCB and prohibits LGBTQ couple from applying as per the lawsuit.

Easter has filed a lawsuit against her Department of Health and Human Services that oversees the Administration for Children and Families and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Her legal counsel and she assert they believe that HHS, "by sanctioning and enabling discrimination and favoring certain religious beliefs," is infringing on both the First as well as the Fifth Amendments.

"By preventing children under their care and custody from being placed in homes of LGBTQ people based on USCCB's religious beliefs, the Defendants -- through USCCB and its subgrantees -- not only discriminate against LGBTQ people, but also effectively disregard the non-Catholic identities and beliefs of many of the unaccompanied refugee children for whom they are responsible," the lawsuit claims. "This conduct potentially increases those children's alienation and vulnerability, while denying them access to loving homes that could serve them best -- all at federal taxpayers' expense."

A spokesperson from HHS' Administration of Children and Families stated via email they would respond to this lawsuit on time like any other lawsuit that names an agency of the Federal Government.

"HHS is committed to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and ensuring access to our programs and services," the spokesperson stated.

Easter made an announcement that she was "heartbroken."

"It hurt to be turned away -- twice -- solely because of my identity," she stated in a press release. "I've been a Christian since I was a little girl and my personal relationship with God is the most important thing to me. I also know that LGBTQ people can have thriving families and that they are as important and deserving as any other. How can the government tell me that my beliefs are wrong?"

She said she's "more concerned about the children." She claims that it's the state that's hurting the children by denying them a safe and loving home.

"I am qualified and can provide a safe and stable home for a child," she stated. "How is it better for them to stay in a group setting instead of a home with someone who can care for and support them adequately?"

Easter can be represented through Lambda Legal, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the legal company Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

Karen L. Loewy, the chief counsel of Lambda Legal, said the government has decided to block Easter applicants from working to offer the child with a place to live in need, while "funneling millions of dollars of taxpayer money into a child welfare organization that refuses to allow LGBTQ people to apply to be foster parents."

"This kind of discrimination not only hurts the people turned away -- it hurts the children in these programs by reducing the number of available homes, and depriving these children of the opportunity to be considered for placement in loving homes that may best serve their individual needs," Loewy claimed in a press release.

Federal law restricts federal contractors and government-sponsored programs to discriminate based on the basis of sexuality and gender, which was recently taken up in the Biden administration and most courts to encompass gender identity and sexual orientation. However, there are exceptions to federal law for service providers who believe that offering certain services could be incompatible with their faith.