30% of children in foster care identify as LGBTQ. Here’s one transgender teen’s story in Virginia.

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1/1/22

Taliah, a 14-year-old transgender girl, looks and acts like any teenager growing up in Chesterfield County. She loves YouTube and TikTok and texting her friends. She listens to Cardi B, Doja Cat and Beyoncé “of course,” she said. She loves to roller skate at Skate Away and can dance hip-hop, jazz and ballet. She likes to style hair and taught herself how to braid her own long, black locks. She is pretty and young, smiling easily with warmth and laughter — even when she tells the nightmarish story of how her father beat her, horrifically, when she started coming out as gay at 12 years old. “He punched me in the face four times, twice on either side,” said Taliah, looking down at the beloved iPhone in her hands. “Then he got the belt and beat me until I bled.” When the police arrived to her father’s home in Hopewell, she was taken to a hospital, where a woman from foster care told her, “You’re going to be all right. We’re going to put you in a different home.” There are over 5,400 children in the Virginia foster care system, according to the state Department of Social Services’ website. Roughly 30% of children in foster care nationally identify as LGBTQ and are often kicked out of their biological homes, ending up in foster care because their biological parents didn’t accept their sexual identity. “LGBTQ+ youth face housing instability at disproportional rates. These young people cannot thrive if they do not have access to a safe, affirming and stable environment,” said Jamie Nolan, co-executive director of Side by Side, a local group dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ youth. “Unfortunately, too often, we see families who turn away from their children when they choose to come out because of a lack of information and understanding about who their child is.” That’s what happened to Taliah when she was a 12-year-old boy and her name was Torron. But life didn’t get easier once foster care stepped in. Taliah went to one foster family and then another. She didn’t get along with her foster siblings. She acted out and got into fights. Tensions kept building. Nothing felt like home. Everything was temporary. “LGBTQ youth need ally-ship and support from their parents, especially for youth in foster care. If they are coming into a foster home that is not affirming, that’s an added trauma,” said Jess Mendez, an advocate for He She Ze and We, a local group serving families with transgender loved ones. Taliah felt alone, angry and isolated until she met Randy and Lanette Hall, a foster family from Henrico County. She met them at a restaurant and remembers seeing Lanette’s purple hair. Taliah thought, “I like this family. They seem cool.”

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