Easter v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Last modified 2022.07.15

  • Status Closed
  • Type Counsel
  • Court U.S. District Court
  • Issues Discrimination in Social Services, Fighting Discrimination, Foster Care Discrimination, LGBTQ Equality, Racial Equality, Taxpayer Funding of Religion

In 2020, Kelly Easter began seeking to foster refugee children. In the Nashville area, where Kelly lives, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its subgrantee Bethany Christian Services are the only organizations that provide federal foster-care services for unaccompanied refugee children. Kelly was directed to Bethany Christian Services, but its representative informed Kelly that it would not allow her to apply to the program because she is a lesbian.

When Bethany’s national leadership announced the following year that it had changed its policy and would now accept LGBTQ families, Kelly again attempted to apply. But a representative from Bethany informed Kelly that she still would not be permitted to apply to the only program near her home, because Bethany operates that program as a subgrantee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which continues to exclude LGBTQ foster- parent applicants from participation. Bethany told her, however, that there was another location in Smyrna, Tennessee where she could apply. The alternate location was an hour drive roundtrip–a journey she would need to make twice per day.

Kelly reported this discrimination to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Yet despite knowing for years that the Conference of Catholic Bishops discriminates and requires its subgrantees to discriminate against LGBTQ foster parents, all while funneling millions of taxpayer dollars to these organizations to provide services to refugee children in its care, the Office of Refugee Resettlement did not act.

On October 13, 2021, Americans United and Lambda Legal joined with private law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to end unlawful discrimination against LGBTQ people in the Department of Health and Human Services’ program for unaccompanied refugee children.

In response to the lawsuit, the Conference of Catholic Bishops told the federal government that it no longer has a religious objection to working with a single lesbian foster parent. Since she now has been allowed the opportunity to provide a safe and loving home for refugee children, Easter agreed on June 24, 2022, to voluntarily dismiss her case for the time being.

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