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CASA volunteer Gordon Elkins
"This work has become a quest for me."

Gordon Elkins: Improving Lives of LGBTQ Youth in Care

CASA for Riverside County, Riverside, CA

A chance encounter with a runaway teen changed the course of Gordon Elkins’s life and the lives of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning) youth in state care in California.

While he was living and working in San Francisco, Gordon became an “unplanned parent” when he rescued a 15-year-old runaway boy from a pimp. While he was working with the appropriate agencies to find a safe home for him, the teen took his own life.

"Losing him was my wake up call. There are too many LGBT kids out there who have equally troubled stories. I could not sit on the sidelines anymore,” says Gordon.

That was 18 years ago. Since then, Gordon retired to Palm Springs and has become increasingly involved in improving the lives of children living in foster care. As a volunteer and an activist, his focus is on working with children who, like himself, identify as LGBT. Gordon learned about the CASA cause when the executive director of CASA for Riverside County, Deborah Sutton, asked him to help the program launch a new LGBT sensitivity training.

When he was sworn in as a CASA volunteer in June 2010, Gordon asked to be appointed to advocate for a gay youth. Gordon was assigned to Angel, a 15-year-old boy. At the time, Angel was withdrawn, angry, attending school sporadically and living in a foster home that he described as “not liking gays.” It was his 14th “home” in six years. Angel initially greeted Gordon with silence and skepticism. Gordon responded with patience, acceptance, humor and “unconditional love” that Angel had never known.

“Gordon makes sure I get what I need—things like tutoring and visits with my sister,” says Angel. “And I know he really cares for me. I can talk to him. I can count on him.”

Gordon describes his work with Angel as historic: theirs was the first openly gay volunteer-foster youth pairing in the program’s history. The results of the match are striking. In their year together, Angel has gone from being truant and receiving failing and barely passing grades to bringing home a report card comprising As and Bs. For the first time, he agreed to participate in anger management counseling and is interacting well with adults. And he has become comfortable with his identity as a gay youth and, according to Gordon, he is definitely “out of the closet now.”

“In our CASA training, we talk a lot about the importance of connecting youth with their own racial and ethnic communities,” says Gordon. “When I apply this concept to working with Angel, it translates into connecting him with the gay community. A very important part of my role in his life is providing him with positive gay adult role models and showing him how gay adults interact with each other, as families. Ensuring that he is expressing himself for who he is.” 

Gordon shares that CASA for Riverside County is the first California CASA program to pilot LGBT sensitivity training for its volunteers. The program is a lead member of a county-wide task force of child welfare organizations that are working to improve systems and outcomes for LGBT youth.

“This work has become a quest for me. Angel is benefitting from it, and I hope that other LGBT youth in the system will benefit from it also.”

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