Gay Couple Says State Agency Discriminated Against Them

Two Bozeman men filed complaint saying the state Division of Child and Family Services discriminated against them

By Dillon Tabish

BOZEMAN — Two Bozeman men have filed a complaint with the Human Rights Bureau saying the state Division of Child and Family Services discriminated against them as they sought to adopt a foster child.

Luis and Joseph DeSerrano, who were married in 2014, said state employees subjected them to anti-gay comments, sabotaged their application and that one worker told them they’d be “at the bottom of my list” for foster placements, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

The state Department of Public Health and Human Services says the boy — who was born with marijuana and methamphetamine in his system — was placed with a relative and that family placements take priority over a foster placement. The agency says it has and does place foster children with same-sex couples.

The DeSerranos argue the agency delayed processing their application and checking their references, covered up and back-dated documents and fast-tracked moving the baby out of their home.

“We signed up because we think we were doing something good, and we ran up against a brick wall,” Joseph said.

The dispute comes at the same time the agency has an all-time high of more than 3,200 children in foster care.

Luis, 35, has a doctorate and is training to be a research scientist and Joseph, 39, is a software company consultant. They cared for the boy for three months, beginning in March, when he was about 5 weeks old.

One social worker was encouraging, they said, while another told them — in front of a foster care class — that “other social workers wouldn’t want to work with us because we’re a gay couple, and because we’re two males.”

That second social worker — Whitney Cole — also conducted their home study and had to sign off on all placements, they said.

Cole said she couldn’t comment, but did say they misinterpreted her “bottom of the list” comment. DPHHS spokesman Chuck Council said the agency could not comment other than to say they did not discriminate against the couple and that the DeSerranos may have misinterpreted Cole’s comments.

In late May, the agency notified the men they would be placing the boy with a distant relative, a single young woman, whose approval seemed to be fast-tracked, they said.

The staff’s good work in finding kinship placements is the main reason they have been able to manage the increased need for foster families, Council wrote.

Once the boy was taken from the DeSerranos, they no longer had any legal standing to fight for custody.

“We’d love to have (him) back, but we know that’s not going to happen,” Joseph said, adding that they’re challenging the state because “we don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”

Montana Human Rights Bureau attorney Tim Little said the bureau is required to investigate discrimination complaints within 180 days.

A court-appointed special advocate, or CASA volunteer, George Kelly, visited the DeSerranos twice while they had the boy and thought they were great parents.

The Rev. Canon Clark Sherman of St. James Episcopal Church wrote that the DeSerranos provided a loving family and said their loss of the boy was “a moral tragedy.”

The DeSerranos said they still want to have a family, but will likely work with an adoption agency rather than the state foster care system.

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