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Wuoti v. Winters

Description:  Vermont officials revoked the foster-care licenses of two families after the couples expressed their religiously inspired and widely held belief that girls cannot become boys or vice versa.

Tuesday, Jun 4, 2024

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of two Vermont families after the state revoked their foster-care licenses because of their religious beliefs.

Inspired by their faith, two couples wanted to help meet Vermont’s “desperate” need for foster families. Pastor Brian Wuoti and his wife, Katy, became foster parents in 2014 and successfully adopted two brothers from foster care. Pastor Bryan Gantt and his wife, Rebecca, became foster parents in 2016 and focused on caring for children born with drug dependencies or with fetal alcohol syndrome. The Gantts have since adopted three children.

Despite a track record of success and high praise from social workers who knew them, Vermont’s Department for Children and Families revoked their foster-care licenses after the couples expressed their religiously inspired and widely held belief that girls cannot become boys or vice versa. As ADF attorneys explain in the lawsuit, Vermont would prefer children have no home than to place them with families with those religious beliefs. The state applies this policy categorically—prohibiting families with these views from caring for any child, even if the family sought to care for a relative, provide respite care for an infant for just one day, or care for a child who shared their faith.

“Vermont’s foster-care system is in crisis: There aren’t enough families to care for vulnerable kids and children born with drug dependencies have nowhere to call home. Yet Vermont is putting its ideological agenda ahead of the needs of these suffering kids,” said ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse. “The Wuoti and Gantt families have adopted five beautiful children between them, including children with special needs. Now Vermont says they’re unfit to parent any child because of their traditional religious beliefs about human sexuality. Vermont seems to care little about the needs of vulnerable children, much less the constitutional rights of its citizens. That’s why we’re suing them in federal court.”

Vermont’s foster-care system has more children in need than families willing to care for them. Vermont’s Department for Children and Families has even had to place some children with unlicensed families, hospitals, and police stations to fill the gap. Despite the Wuotis’ and Gantts’ well-established ability to care for children, the department revoked their foster-care licenses.

The Wuotis had received high praise from social workers who called them “amazing” and said they “probably could not hand pick a more wonderful foster family.” But Vermont revoked their license in 2022 after they expressed that they could not encourage a child to “transition.”

Department officials similarly praised the Gantts for their faithful service to children in foster care. In September 2023, department officials asked them to help in an emergency and adopt a baby about to be born to a homeless woman who was addicted to drugs. Officials said the Gantts were “the perfect home” and the department’s “first choice” for this baby. The Gantts told officials they would gladly take the child. They also expressed concern about the department’s policy requiring them to use inaccurate pronouns, take children to Pride parades, and encourage children to reject their bodies. The department immediately refused to let the Gantts adopt the baby in need and instead revoked their license.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Wuoti v. Winters, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Windham Division.

  • Pronunciation guide: Wuoti (WAH-tee), Widmalm-Delphonse (VEED'-malm Del-FONS')

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse

Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives. Just prior to joining ADF, Widmalm-Delphonse clerked for the Honorable Sara Ellis of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Before that, Widmalm-Delphonse served as staff attorney with the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he represented clients charged with serious felonies. Widmalm-Delphonse earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2014. He obtained his B.A., with distinction, in political science, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Widmalm-Delphonse is a member of state bars of Minnesota, Illinois, and Virginia.