Supporting Queer Homeless Youth in Foster Care

Supporting Queer Homeless Youth in Foster Care

July 18, 2023 | David Ambroz

The cover of the book, A Place Called Home, and the headshot of the author, David Ambroz

As a formerly homeless person, a former foster youth, and now a decades-long advocate for children and families in poverty—in all its forms—I continue the work I began as a teenager to empower the communities I came from.

My name is David Ambroz and today I’m an Emmy-nominated producer and a bestselling author. The social-impact work is part of my overall day-to-day career too. Working at Amazon, helping lead community engagement across the west, I’m able to bring my background, passion, and full self to a career in corporate social responsibility.

Early in my advocacy work, I helped found and shape an effort newly underway: the “Joint Initiative” between Lambda Legal and the Child Welfare League of America. The work was to change nearly 100 years of practice to a new orientation: namely, to support, affirm, and love queer children in foster care or the youth justice system. It was a radical shift in a not-too-distant time where to be queer was near illegal.

My memoir, A Place Called Home, recounts 12 years of homelessness before entering foster care. In some combination of Forrest Gump, Hillbilly Elegy, and Precious, I’ve had an impossible and beautiful life. I share the story not to invite gawking, but instead to motivate people to move from empathy to action. With 8.4 million children living in poverty in this country, we cannot wait. 

When I was a child, homelessness on the streets of New York City and other East Coast cities was rampant. Often, we slept in shelters. In those early days of the 1980s, as NYC was disintegrating, there was another group there in the shelters: young men dying of AIDS. The streets were a place to survive, day to day. Poverty is never about the future.  It is obsessed with the now, as it must be to survive.

Studies have identified that nearly 30% of youth in foster care are queer—nearly triple the population in the general public. The older the youth is, the harder it is to find adoptive parents. Foster care at its core is a system designed to reunite families, and that’s as it should be. But for some of the children in care, that won’t be possible. They are waiting for us, their forever families.

I often hear about the challenges of trying to foster and, especially, adopt from the “system.” The experiences are valid—and true. And yet, we all are “the system.” We are the change that the system needs to ease the process that allows for queer families to come to be. Each struggle that we experience in the process to get through the system is a chance for us to improve the system for others, the would-be parents after us—and, most importantly, the children. 

In foster care, I was diagnosed as suffering from gender identification disorder, or GID, because I was queer and clearly so. The outright hostility, violence, and neglect for that part of my identity was manifest. There are so many parts of my life that were a struggle, but the societal distaste for queer people was a lesson drilled into me by state-sanctioned violence. We need queer parents today, not because this is still the law, but because children need strong and gorgeous queer role models. Not just queer children, but all children, all of whom deserve families. 

Today, I constantly have to come out as a former homeless person, a former foster youth, and sometimes as a proud gay man. In my advocacy, co-founding FosterMore, I have adapted the ardent need for us to come out as both foster people and adopted people so that we get the attention, support, and resources we and others need. Also, and most importantly, so we might persuade the public to not turn away from us in disgust, ignorance, or, worse still, from the not-so-benign neglect of inattention.

Queer people, my people, have taught me to merely be myself and that being out is a political statement demanding equality, recognition, and fairness. I am sharing that lesson with my foster-adoption community. 

In my memoir, I list out the foster and adoptive youth who have come before me, a political statement showing our contributions and humanizing us as a people: Steve Jobs, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Cher, Greg Louganis, Coco Chanel, Tammy Baldwin, Nancy Reagan, Ella Fitzgerald, Tina Turner, Carol Burnett, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, and so many more names. We are here, and we will change the world.

Yet only we adults know that they are not alone. It’s not enough to say it gets better; we must make it better for all children in poverty. Learn how you can adopt, foster, or mentor. If you can’t, then care enough to spend time and learn what is going on in your community. What is your school system doing to support queer homeless youth? 

Other than the laws of physics, everything is a choice. We must make a different choice for the millions of children in poverty. Now.

David Ambroz is a best-selling author and a national advocate for poverty, child welfare and queer rights. His memoir, A Place Called Home, is a personal account of his experiences with poverty and homelessness as a young queer child. David eventually graduated from Vassar College, then UCLA School of Law, and later co-founded, an organization which helps to radically change the perceptions of the foster care system, and thereby outcomes.