An interview with beau ohlgren
Beau has our hearts.
He's a Love Box leader. A Love Box recipient. He is a donor. He's a single foster parent with a youth in his home that is also in the Dare to Dream Program. He also is an educator locally and at the national level of Angels. Beau is all about showing kids that they are held in community and seen for who they are.
As WA State moves to targeted recruitment of foster parents, we wanted to better understand what kids that identify as LGBTQ+ need to thrive. Beau sat down with us this month to talk about all things LGBTQ+ and foster care.
Thank you, Beau!
Can a LGBTQ+ person/family foster?
LGBTQ+ folks can absolutely foster! Before I went through my own foster licensing I was worried that being trans would prevent me from getting licensed, but my queer identity was never a concern. In fact, Washington State has strict standards for folks who are getting licensed - all foster parents must be open to LGBTQ+ youth in their care, and folks can’t get licensed if they can’t promise that they would support every child. From my own perspective, because LGBTQ+ youth are over-represented in the population of kids in foster care, it is quite possibly advantageous to have more queer foster parents!
What are the benefits of matching a youth that identifies as LGBTQ+ with an ally or LGBTQ+ family or mentor?
LGBTQ+ youth experience high rates of bullying and rejection by peers and adults, and the stress of harassment and discrimination can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. They thrive when they are supported, treated with compassion and understanding, and can see their futures in the adults around them. Feeling isolated and alone is a common challenge for LGBTQ+ youth, along with lacking healthy adult role models who share their identities or with whom they can share their experiences. If a youth in foster care is matched with someone who at least has some understanding and will dive into talking about gender and sexuality with them, it is truly life changing. If they share a queer identity, it gives that youth a vision of what adulthood could look like, when before they may have never had the opportunity to picture their lives.
Tell us about the training you did for National, and what was hoped to achieve through it?
I led a conversation around gender and sexuality, the statistics and composition of children and youth in foster care who carry LGBTQ+ identities, and best practices for supporting queer youth with National Angels chapters around the country. One of my greatest passions in life is ensuring that we meet youth where they are at and support them through their identity development, and I know that gender and sexuality is one of those areas that hasn’t been taught well or thoroughly so many folks come into these conversations without the tools they need. It’s very important that we learn the language so that we can be the best mentors and advocates that we can possibly be. My hope is that each Angels chapter is able to take learnings from this session back to their communities so they can learn their local resources and expand their volunteer trainings to fit their communities.
How do LGBTQ+ statistics relate to foster care?
LGBTQ+ youth are over-represented in the foster community- meaning that in the general youth population you expect 11% to identify as LGBTQ+ but that number is 30% for youth in foster care. Additionally, one study in New York found that 78 percent of LGBTQ youth were removed or ran away from foster homes because of the hostilities they faced, and 56 percent chose to live on the street–rather than in a foster care placement–because they felt safer there. It is vital in the foster care community to understand our over-representations - on race, on ability, on sexuality and gender, etc - and to equip ourselves with the tools necessary to meet each child and youth with competence and compassion.
What do you want people to know about specific to LGBTQ+ & foster care?
Learning the language around gender, sexuality, and pronouns might feel a bit overwhelming. It is a fair bit to learn, and can take some re-training of our brain to stop making assumptions on a variety of levels and- it. is. worth. it. The relationships and trust you will build by approaching this with humility and curiosity will pay you back 100x.
Beau Ohlgren is an educator, facilitator, and community organizer and has been leading workshops, facilitating groups, and running trainings on gender, sexuality, and working with transgender folks since 2011. He’s worked with all ages (preschool to older adults), and with groups ranging from therapists to church-workers, university staff to doctors.
Beau is the Director of Family Ministry at Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Port Townsend, WA, is a licensed foster parent, and runs the Jefferson Country Transgender Support group. He’s passionate about supporting children and youth in our community, and particularly expanding knowledge and compassion for the queer community.
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