FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—A new lawsuit alleges that Vermont blocked two families from fostering children, despite the state’s foster care system crisis, because the families held traditional, religious views on gender and sexuality.

Brian and Kaitlyn Wuoti and Michael and Rebecca Gantt accused the Vermont Department for Children and Families of mandating an “ideological position at the expense of children” in a lawsuit filed Tuesday. Both Brian Wuoti and Michael Gantt are pastors, and both families hold traditional, Christian religious views.

The Daily Signal is first reporting the existence of the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Windham Division. The Daily Signal also exclusively sat down with both the Gantt family and the Wuoti family for interviews in Vermont, where they described how they were prevented from adopting or fostering needy children due to their religious beliefs.

“Although the Wuotis and Gantts have adopted five children between them, the Department has determined they are unfit to foster or adopt any child solely due to their religiously inspired and widely held belief that girls cannot become boys or vice versa,” the filing states.

“And Vermont applies this policy categorically—whether applicants want to adopt their grandchild, provide respite care for an infant for just a few hours, or foster a child who shares all of their religious views,” the complaint continues. “Vermont would prefer children have no home than to place them with families of faith with these views.”

Vermont foster officials have described a “desperate need for emergency foster homes” as recently as Dec. 19. In an email obtained by The Daily Signal, Foster/Kin Care Manager Carrie Deem told foster families that she was “reaching out for help,” describing an “urgent” need.

“The raw honesty behind this message is that of desperation,” she wrote in the email, sent shortly before Christmas. “We need you! Family Services is in a crisis beyond what we have seen before.”

Vermont’s own Department for Children and Families website notes that “we always need more foster families in Vermont.” The crisis has become so extreme, particularly due to the opioid endemic, that some children in need of homes have been forced to stay in hospital emergency rooms or police departments.

Typically, there are about 1,060 children in state custody, the Vermont Department for Children and Families told a local outlet in May 2023, and approximately 900 licensed foster families.

The Wuoti parents, inspired by their Christian faith, decided to answer the state’s call to help vulnerable children and first became foster parents in 2014. The lawsuit describes how they “adopted two precious brothers who have become an integral part of their family.”

The Gantt parents, who have four biological children, began fostering in 2016. They have since adopted three “beautiful children,” as the lawsuit says, noting that they “have a heart for children with fetal alcohol syndrome and those born addicted to drugs.”

When the Wuotis sought to renew their license in 2022, the lawsuit says, one caseworker described them as “AMAZING” and said she “probably could not hand pick a more wonderful foster family,” while their licenser said he had “no doubt” they would gladly welcome any child into their home.

“But when the Wuotis politely shared that they were Christian,” the lawsuit states, “and that they could not say or do anything that went against faith-informed views about human sexuality, Vermont revoked their license anyway.”

Similarly, the Department for Children and Families asked the Gantts to take in an emergency placement that involved a baby about to be born to a homeless woman who was addicted to drugs. Before the Gantts could agree to do so, the department sent out an email letting families know that they must accept the State’s views on gender ideology “even if the foster parents hold divergent personal opinions or beliefs,” according to the lawsuit.

“The Gantts responded that they would unconditionally love and support any children placed with them, but they would not forsake their religious beliefs that people should value their God-given bodies,” the lawsuit states. “The Department refused to let the Gantts take the baby in need and instead revoked their license.”

The Gantt and Wuoti lawsuit argues that Vermont Department for Children and Families’ policy not only harms children and “hinders their chance to find forever homes,” it also violates the First Amendment.

“It requires parents to speak the State’s controversial views, while restricting parents’ ability to politely share their commonsense beliefs to any child in any context—categorically excluding disfavored viewpoints from the foster-parent pool entirely,” the filing states. “Vermont’s regulations also target particular religious views for unequal treatment through an exemption-riddled system of individualized assessments.”

The Vermont Department for Children and Families, reached for comment by The Daily Signal, shared some of the segments on gender from its website. Section 200 of the licensing rules states that “all foster parents are prohibited from engaging in any form of discrimination against a foster child based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or disability.”

Section 201.10 calls for applicants and foster parents to show “respect for the worth of all individuals regardless of race, color, national origin, ancestry, culture, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual identity, and physical or mental ability.”

The licensing rules specifically order foster parents to “support children in wearing” any items affirming their racial, cultural, tribal, religious, or gender identity.

Both the Wuotis and the Gantts told The Daily Signal that they would have loved and cherished any children put in their care by the state. But the Department for Children and Families had asked them if they would be open to taking their foster children to pride parades or using preferred pronouns to refer to the children. The Wuotis and the Gantts both said no.

“We were surprised, because they are typically always trying to match children with families as best they can, and so we assumed maybe they would say, ‘Ok, maybe we won’t place an LGBT child with this family,’” said Brian Wuoti.

“We were offered to be reeducated and given the choice that they could either revoke our foster license or we could take some education materials, and they could give us up to a year to change our faith,” added Michael Gantt. “And I said, ‘No, we are not going to change our faith in the next year; absolutely not.’”

Kaitlyn Wuoti said that she herself had experienced gender dysphoria at a young age, saying that she “desperately wanted to be a boy.” Her father affirmed to her that she was, in fact, a girl, but encouraged her to be interested in tomboy pursuits like model cars.

“My parents loved me, let me like the things I liked, never lied to me about who I was, and never encouraged me to hate my own body,” she explained.

The Wuotis believe that background gives them special insight into helping a child struggling with gender dysphoria.

“They … genuinely think that this is the care of these children that are in need, so I understand, in a way, where they are coming from,” Brian Wuoti added. “But we also know, in the way that Katie had been loved and cared for by her parents, that there can be wonderful, flourishing outcomes for children even in a home that doesn’t agree with the state on these issues.”

Watch The Daily Signal’s interviews with the Wuoti and Gantt families here: