“I want to be a voice for those kids who feel that they don’t have one.”
Chilton Brown knows the foster care system. As well he should; Brown spent 16 years in it. But many LGBT kids don’t stay in the system. They run away and end up in the streets, something Brown, 20, is trying to change.
“We haven’t really had a good turnout of LGBT kids that have graduated out of the system because they end up running away because they feel the parents or staff do not agree with their sexual orientation or the kids at the homes harass them so they end up leaving, becoming homeless,” he said.
When Brown saw a chance to help change this, he jumped at it.
“My court appointed attorney knew that I was a pretty level headed individual and he saw that I wanted to make a change in foster care so he invited me to an AWOL Task Force meeting, which is run through Michigan Supreme Court Chief Judge Marilyn Kelly, and they deal with just foster kids who keep running away from our foster system.”
For the past year, Brown has been working with the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.
“It’s an initiative started by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the state of Michigan is the only state where the program is funded through a state agency,” explained Brown. “What it deals with is kids who are currently in foster care or transitioning out between the ages of 14 and 23. It helps them to better be able to take care of themselves after they’ve transitioned out because the government feels that foster kids are at a disadvantage to kids who are raised in regular homes.”
And as Brown knows only too well, LGBT foster kids are at a greater disadvantage still.
“The reason why a lot of these kids do not come out is because of how the foster parents in the system react,” Brown said. “I was told one time by a foster parent that I was as happy as a boy in Sissy Town. When things like that are said, kids who are LGBT do not come out. Or some foster parents or the other kids in the house tell them, ‘I’ll beat you up if you’re gay.’ There’s no question that there are more LGBT kids in foster care (than we know about).”
The challenge is finding them.
“Because of the experiences that I went through … that’s what makes me want to help these kids,” said Brown. “And I’m able to give them insight because of what I’ve gone through. A lot of kids in the community know me so when they talk to me for advice or things that they’re going through in their lives I’m able to help them.”
Last year, in fact, he even put a few up in his home for a brief time.
“They had all run away from a group home and they told me they were being picked on, the staff were beating them up and they were being molested by some of the staff at these group homes,” said Brown
Currently pursuing a double major of pre-law and sociology at Wayne State University, Brown tries to find resources for LGBT kids in foster care, though admittedly there are few. That’s why Brown feels it’s so important to tell his story.
“I wanted to get my story out,” he said. “I want to be a voice for those kids who feel that they don’t have one.”