Two Vermont families who were inspired by their faith to foster children in their homes have filed a lawsuit against the state’s Department for Children and Families after the agency revoked their licenses for refusing to embrace gender ideology.

The foster parents, who are represented by the legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), have provided foster care to children for several years. However, their licenses were revoked because they did not agree to a policy that would require them to support a child’s decision to identify with a gender that is separate from his or her biological sex or to bring the child to events that promote homosexuality if he or she identifies as homosexual.

In both cases, neither set of parents was caring for a child who identified as transgender or homosexual. However, Vermont’s policy requires the foster parents to affirm that they would support a child in his or her self-asserted gender identity and sexuality — if the hypothetical situation were to occur.

“Vermont’s foster-care system is in crisis: There aren’t enough families to care for vulnerable kids, and children born with drug dependencies have nowhere to call home,” ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse said in a statement. “Yet Vermont is putting its ideological agenda ahead of the needs of these suffering kids.”

According to the department’s policies, parents are encouraged to “support children’s identities even if it feels uncomfortable” and “bring young people to LGBTQ organizations and events in the community.” It instructs foster parents to use “appropriate pronouns” — which would be inconsistent with the child’s biological sex if the child identifies as transgender — and “support young people’s gender expression.” 

The foster parents who filed the suit are Protestant Christians: Brian Wuoti, a pastor, and his wife, Katy; Bryan Gantt, who is also a pastor, and his wife, Rebecca. Both couples argue in the lawsuit that complying with this policy would violate their religious beliefs and their rights to free speech.

“The Wuoti and Gantt families have adopted five beautiful children between them, including children with special needs,” Widmalm-Delphonse said. “Now Vermont says they’re unfit to parent any child because of their traditional religious beliefs about human sexuality. Vermont seems to care little about the needs of vulnerable children, much less the constitutional rights of its citizens. That’s why we’re suing them in federal court.”

The lawsuit asks the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, Windham Division to find that the policy and its enforcement against these two sets of foster parents violates the constitutionally protected rights to free speech, free association, religious exercise, due process, and equal protection under the law. 

Further, the lawsuit asks the court to order that the department halt its enforcement of this policy, which denies or revokes licenses based on a person’s beliefs about sexuality and gender.

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Aryka Radke, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families, Family Services Division, said in a statement provided to CNA that the department “takes the care and support of youth in our custody seriously and we work to ensure that youth in foster care are placed in homes that support all aspects of what makes them who they are,” which includes “their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“With the understanding that many children may not have fully figured out their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, an honestly answered question today may not reflect the honest feelings of those same children the next day,” Radke added. “That given, it is our responsibility to ensure all children and youth will reside in a home with caregivers who are committed to fully embracing and holistically affirming and supporting them.” 

However, the statement noted that the department “does not comment on the specifics of pending lawsuits” and did not comment on the alleged constitutional violations.