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FAQs for LGBT host families

When families consider opening up their homes and their lives to an AFS student, there are naturally questions ranging from "do I have to have teenaged children in my home" to "can they share a room with one of my children." For LGBT families, the same questions come to mind.

At the same time, there are some unique questions and concerns that LGBT families face. This guide has been designed to address many of those questions and is based largely on the experiences of former LGBT host families. If your questions and concerns aren't addressed here, we invite you to contact us!

This question brings up a number of concerns that LGBT families have when they consider hosting a student. What if the student seems guarded and suspicious of us? What if the student is ashamed of being placed with a family that is "different" from the mainstream? What if the student's parents are unhappy with their daughter or son being placed with an LGBT family? These are all very valid questions and relate to topics that can cause an AFS experience to turn sour, both for the host family and for the student.

We begin to address these potential situations by being open and honest in our communication. For starters, we simply ask the potential student if s/he would be comfortable with a placement with an LGBT host family. We also ask the parents for their approval. This helps us to respond to their questions and/or concerns in an open and direct fashion. Of course, there are some students and parents that are naturally open to LGBT families and there's little or no need for discussion. On the other hand, there are those that will not even consider a placement with an LGBT family.

Some folks, including many in the AFS community, feel that allowing a student the option to reject a placement with an LGBT family fosters a belief that LGBT families are less than satisfactory or even unsuitable. Our inclination is to agree wholeheartedly since our own definition of "family" is all-inclusive. At the same time, we realize that we are working to break down barriers that exist from one culture to another, one person at a time. We sometimes feel impatient with the pace of change in attitudes, tolerance, and acceptance, but we strive to be mindful of cultural differences that we cannot change overnight, even though we would like to do so.

We could, of course, take a strong stand and require students and parents to be accepting of LGBT host family placements. It seems simple but, in some countries and cultures, this could eliminate practically every applicant and, in turn, students from those countries would not have the opportunity to have an AFS experience at all. We believe that we stand a much greater chance of affecting change by exposing young people from those countries and cultures to a variety of different attitudes that exist here in the United States. And herein lies one of the greatest effects of an AFS experience - changing lives, attitudes, and viewpoints, one person at a time.

In the end, we're convinced that it is far more advantageous for LGBT families to receive students that have fully embraced the idea of a placement with an LGBT family, rather than having felt pressured to accept the placement out of the fear that they would otherwise be rejected from the program.

As the world moves further along in embracing equality for all members of the human family, we are anxiously awaiting the time to arrive when these discussions and considerations are no longer relevant or necessary.

All host families, whether single parents or heterosexual couples, are acting, along with AFS, as custodians during the time that they are hosting. In other words, they are acting on behalf of, rather than in place of, the student's natural parents/guardians. Thankfully, most LGBT host families report few if any problems when it comes to carrying out their responsibilities as an AFS host parent.

No matter the state or community, a host parent should be able to perform the typical day-to-day responsibilities of a parent, including things like signing school permission slips, attending parent-teacher conferences, consenting for a routine visit to a doctor's office, etc. In the event that any of these actions are questioned or even denied, you should contact your local AFS representative. S/he can help to clarify your (and AFS') role for the school or service provider so as to avoid further confusion and/or misunderstanding.

Chances are you've experienced similar situations before and recognize the value in avoiding confrontation. We'll work with you to determine what is required in order to fulfill your responsibilities as a host parent in your locale. While it's always frustrating, it's rarely insurmountable.

Yes. Whether or not you have (or have had) children in your home, you are eligible to apply to be an AFS host family. In fact, for many LGBT host families, having an AFSer in their home is their first experience with learning and practicing the art of parenting.

"Hosting exchange students gave me and my partner an opportunity to experience the joys and the challenges of being a parent - experiences we had long assumed we'd never have. Parenting is sometimes a tough job, but it results in a new depth of skill and knowledge and, of course, lifelong memories. We've since met the parents of all of the students we've hosted, and it was fun to compare notes on "our" children."  ~  Melvin H., 5-time host parent

Gender consideration is generally not a part of the placement process, unless there are factors that require it. For example, the exchange student may be sharing a room with your daughter, in which case we would seek to place a female student with your family. Otherwise, our emphasis is on matching your family's interests and living environment with a compatible student, regardless of gender.

AFS volunteers are at the heart of our support services for students and host families. While AFS is very transparent in our organizational commitment to diversity, the level of commitment of individuals is as varied as are the communities in the United States. What is certain is that every AFS volunteer is committed to helping the students and host families in their communities enjoy a rewarding and memorable experience. If at any time you feel that your journey as an LGBT host family is not being understood or properly acknowledged, you'll have received information on a variety of AFS contacts, including those in our Support Department in New York.

In some communities, it may not be apparent that there are children at the local schools from LGBT families. In some cases, this is an intentional family decision. For AFS students and host families, we suggest talking about this topic shortly before your student starts attending school. Your AFS student should feel comfortable in bringing any teasing or uncomfortable situations to your attention. By encouraging them to talk to you, it lets them know that you will not be offended or upset, as this is something that might occur. We believe that these situations can often result in a very important discussion that, quite frankly, is part of the very reason AFS exists - to break down barriers of misunderstanding between people and cultures - even when those barriers are in our own backyards. Of course, this shouldn't happen at the expense of a student and/or host family's happiness and comfort. The bottom line is that if you and your student are up for it, so are we! And we'll support you all the way, even if it means that the student might eventually need to move to a new school and/or host family - an unlikely measure.

While unfortunate, we live in a society where there are some rather alarming assumptions made about people perceived as being "different" and, of course, the LGBT community receives its share of these unfair judgments. While we can't change these assumptions and stereotypes overnight, we hope that you and your AFS student are able to rise above such community chatter. If, however, it becomes more than simple chatter and interferes with your ability to have a good experience, AFS will work with you and your student to find a solution, including, as a last resort, placing your student with a family and school in another location.

All host families, regardless of their composition, go through the AFS screening process that includes a criminal background check, verifiable references, and a home visit. These procedures are fully outlined on our website where community members, schools, and others can better understand the care and oversight we dedicate to the selection of our host families.

You probably DO have lots of questions, and we have plenty of answers. If your questions as an LGBT host family have been answered, we invite you to explore all of the resources AFS has available for host families. A good place to start is our Host Family FAQs. (Note: By clicking this link, you'll leave our site for LGBT families, so make sure you check out the "Stories" before you leave!) You can also email us at lgbt@afsusa.org.