By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Back in February, the Kings County Family Court held its first-ever Black History Month celebration. More recently, it celebrated another first-ever event. On Tuesday, the Family Court honored LGBTQ families for its first Pride Month event at the Brooklyn courthouse.
“I'm so proud to be this court's leader during this event,” said Hon. Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, the administrative judge of the New York City Family Court. “One of our core values at the Family Court is respect for everyone with whom we interact. Our court is committed to treating the LGBT families of court employees, our jurists and everyone that walks through our door with respect.”
As part of the event, the court hosted three guest speakers including Mary Keane, a foster and adoptive parent who serves as director of LGBT Services for You Gotta Believe!; Jama Shelton, a Hunter College professor and the Forty to None Project director; and Laurie Sherman Graff, who is the founder and executive director of the Heart Gallery NYC.
“Like so many other groups across this country and around the world, LGBTQ families have had to fight for their rights to be recognized legally and have legally recognized families and marriages,” Hon. Amanda White said. “It is with that in mind that we are so happy to have these guests speaking here today.”
Shelton spoke first and discussed the Forty to None Project, which gets its name from the fact that as many as 40 percent of young homeless people in the country are LGBTQ.
“It's really exciting to me and makes me really hopeful to see federal agencies behind a prevention and early intervention effort,” said Shelton.
Sherman Graff discussed the Heart Gallery and the work it does with helping to trying to find foster homes and adoptive parents for young LGBTQ people that have been abandoned by their families by presenting them in a more beautiful light.
“Someone in children services said, 'the photos that we're using to find these adoptive families for these kids are really not impressive,'” Sherman Graff explained. “They looked like driver's license pictures, and we all know how bad they can be, so it was really hard to find families for these kids.
“We got photographers to agree to donate their services and adoptive families came — the press jumped on it and children got adopted,” she said. “Today there are over 100 such galleries throughout the country. It's a grassroots movement that has really been making a difference.”
Keane discussed her work in trying to find homes for teens in care and living in residential treatment settings with a special focus on LGBTQ kids. She brought Jay Gaines with her, someone who knows the harsh realities LGBTQ kids suffer first hand.
“Foster care is temporary, but kids need something permanent,” Keane said. “We have to change this because kids need somebody with them forever and ever. They need a permanent commitment.”
To close, Hon. Jeanette Ruiz discussed her own involvement with the Heart Gallery and LGBTQ youth.
“I am filled with pride in our first Pride celebration,” Ruiz said. “I am honored to be able to celebrate all of our families in Brooklyn.”