child more or less safe, including how that identity interacts with other child and family
127 For example, a child with a disability may be at greater risk for abuse if the child is
also LGBTQ on the basis of LGBTQ-motivated hatred and because of the child’s disability, the
child has less ability to self-protect and be a self-advocate. Any safety decision that focuses on
the child’s disability without accounting for the fact that the child is also LGBTQ risks leaving
the child in an unsafe environment.
In providing services to LGBTQ children and youth, it is absolutely critical for safety that
adults do not unilaterally reveal the child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
128 If a child is
outed in such a fashion, the child’s safety may be compromised. Involuntarily revealing the
sexual orientation or gender identity of a child involved in the child welfare system is only, and
rarely, justified by compelling considerations of safety.
129 Additionally, these considerations
must be consistent with governing law and professional standards130 and after informing the child
of the individual’s intent to do so.
If a child has made a decision to reveal her or his sexual orientation, safety cannot be an
excuse for forcing the child back into the closet. If a child is physically assaulted, for example,
because the child is open about being LGBTQ, the fault lies with the assailant, not the child.
While the child’s safety is a legitimate concern, the proper approach is to address the threats to
the child’s safety and not force the child to falsely be something she is not.
132 This is victim-blaming of the highest order. It is a second assault on the child’s dignity because it validates the
heterosexism of the assailant. It also enforces sexism and, by extension, all other ways of
I suggest that safety-related concerns for LGBTQ youth require attention at the initial
contact or intake level and must be applied to all children. This might be accomplished by asking
“Would an LGBTQ child be safe in your home?” to all children and parents.
134 By asking this of
127 CHILD WELFARE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, supra note 2, at 2–5, 9–16 (discussing safety of LGBTQ youth in the
home and in out-of-home placements). GETTING DOWN TO BASICS, supra note 1, at 7–14 (discussing safety of
LGBTQ youth in the home and in out-of-home placements); Orecchia, supra note 121, at 71.
128 CHILD WELFARE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, supra note 2, at 16; GETTING DOWN TO BASICS, supra note 1, at 12, 16.
Author’s Note: I leave open the possibility of the merits of involuntarily disclosing a child’s sexual orientation in
emergency situations. In my view, a decision to involuntarily reveal the sexual orientation or gender identity of
someone involved in the child welfare system is only and rarely justified by compelling considerations of safety
(substantial risk to life or substantial risk of serious bodily injury), only when consistent with governing law and
professional standards (see, e.g., Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(b)(1) (2003)), only when no other means
of protecting safety is available, and only after informing the child of the individual’s intent to do so. I understand
the view of advocates who believe outing a child should never be permissible.
129 As an example, a child may be engaging in unsafe same-sex sexual activity and adult intervention may be
necessary to address child safety. For a discussion of these issues, see Kym R. Ahrens, Psychosocial Pathways to
Sexually Transmitted Infection Risk Among Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care: Evidence From a Longitudinal
Cohort Study, 53 J. ADOLESCENT HEALTH 478 (2013).
130 See, e.g., MODEL RULES OF PROF’L CONDUCT r. 1.6(b)(1) (AM. BAR ASS’N 2003).
131 GETTING DOWN TO BASICS, supra note 1, at 12 (“My foster family took away my clothes, called me a ‘dyke,’ and
tried to remake me.”).
132 See generally YOSHINO, supra note 120 (discussing the harms of “covering”).
133 See supra notes 25– 94.
134 CHILD WELFARE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, supra note 2, at 9. The Child Welfare League of America recommends
answering this question, gathered for demographic purposes, be voluntary. Id. Due to issues of safety, see supra
note 128, the author agrees. The Child Welfare League also recommends that this information be kept private and
not shared without express consent. CHILD WELFARE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, supra note 2, at 9. The author concurs,