By Kellee Terrell
“Where Are They Now?” is a series where we catch up with past Lambda Legal plaintiffs. This month, we’re highlighting Kelly Easter, a single lesbian women in Tennessee who was denied her right to become a foster parent because of her sexual orientation. After she filed a federal lawsuit, Easter v. HHS, the taxpayer-funded agency involved—the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)—told the federal government it no longer has a religious objection to working with a single lesbian foster parent and has allowed Easter the opportunity to provide a safe and loving home for refugee children.
Parenthood is a journey I’d been on for a few years. Seeing the number of refugee children in the U.S. needing homes, foster care felt like the best way to offer a loving home to kids in desperate need. But my dreams were shattered when I was told that wasn’t possible because I identify as a lesbian.
In 2020, I was told to contact Bethany Christian Services, a federally funded foster care agency, because they were the only organization close to my Nashville home that could facilitate the refugee program I was interested in. I was excited, but sadly, they rejected my application telling me that they don’t allow LGBTQ+ people to foster —it went against their religious beliefs. I was hurt, but a year later, after Bethany claimed to have dropped their discriminatory policy, I applied a second time hoping for a different outcome. I was rejected again.
I was heartbroken to be turned away — twice — solely because of my identity. I’ve been a Christian since I was little, and my personal relationship with God is the most important thing to me. I also know that LGBTQ+ people can have thriving families and that they are as important and deserving as any other. Most importantly, how can the government tell me that my beliefs are wrong while denying vulnerable children the right to caring and stable homes?
Fortunately, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on my behalf, and in June 2022, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) backed down! The USCCB, which funds Bethany with taxpayer money, told the federal government it no longer has a religious objection to working with a single lesbian foster parent. Lambda Legal gave me the opportunity to be a foster mom. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Ultimately, no one’s religious beliefs give them the right to discriminate with taxpayer dollars. Because of Lambda Legal and their supporters and donors, prospective parents like me can build strong and loving queer families. Thanks for always standing up to discrimination so that this generation of LGBTQ+ people and the next can live freer and more equal lives under the law.