Black VoicesWomen in Power

Creating Safe Havens: Ryan Wright Redefines Foster Care for LGBTQ Youth

Ryan Wright • Photo by Quinton/T-Square Productions

As an advocate, social-impact entrepreneur, queer-identifying woman, and winner of the 2023 Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus’ Jim Owens Newcomer of the Year Award, Ryan Wright is working to disrupt and ultimately eradicate the foster-care-to-prison, homelessness, and trafficking pipeline for LGBTQ youth—especially trans-identifying young women. To accomplish this, Wright founded and currently serves as executive director for the Texas Greenhouse Project (TGP) and its Transitional Housing Mission, which their website describes as “built on a trauma-informed approach, fostering growth in neglected community members with the core values of service, integrity, and freedom.”

Creating safe spaces for LGBTQ youth in foster care wasn’t where Wright’s professional journey began, but the idea for it started percolating within her at an early age. “I’m the only child, but for a few years, my mom was a foster parent and we had two girls come and stay with us,” explains Wright.

Her sisters were eventually reunited with their birth family, but when her former partner told her about the horrific living conditions within the residential treatment center for boys in foster care where he worked, she couldn’t help but think about her sisters. “It was very personal for me. So I actually connected with a CPS caseworker in the Dallas area, and I asked, ‘Where’s the demographic? Where’s the most pressing need?’”

That CPS caseworker informed Wright that LGBTQ children in the Texas foster-care system, especially those who are trans-identifying, were the most in need. “At the time, only three facilities in the entire state would accept transgender children, and now it’s reduced to one,” Wright says. “And they were telling me that, in these facilities, some of them would make [the children] wear their biological-gender clothes during the week and only allow them to wear their true-gender clothes on the weekend. It broke my heart, and in my own coming out and my own personal journey as a queer woman, it felt like this was absolutely a calling for me.”

The CPS caseworker informed Wright that LGBTQ children in the Texas foster-care system, especially those who are trans-identifying, were the most in need. “At the time, only three facilities in the entire state would accept transgender children, and now it’s reduced to one,” Wright says.

“You bring me a problem, and I want to solve it,” Wright asserts. I immediately go into research mode, and I thought, ‘Who owns these things? How do they work? How are they licensed?’” She leaned on her professional experiences as a lawyer—a career she decided to pursue after enduring a bad business deal during her 5th-grade market-day experience, as well as her experiences working in real estate, to create TGP and solve this specific problem.

“I was already looking in the housing space, and one of my goals was to own a 100+ unit complex. I wanted a Camden. This is on my bucket list of accomplishments,” Wright adds. “I started reading the code, did a lot of research, and realized I could do this. I have a house, and it’s in better condition. So that’s where it started.”

Because of her knowledge and skills, Wright can circumvent issues that arise for others who try to create living spaces for foster children. “I found out very quickly that part of the reason a lot of these facilities struggle and get closed down is that they’re not following the very robust minimum standards that are set by the state,” Wright explains. “Ultimately, they’re not always in compliance and they get violations and penalties.”

Beyond being able to interpret and follow the bare minimums required by the laws and administrative codes, Wright’s previous professional experiences allow her to excel at other much-needed management tasks. “Having spent so much time learning and studying investing and creative investment strategies has given me a more creative and innovative perspective on how to structure the partnerships that we’re aiming to build with our projects,” she states.

Ryan Wright • Photo by Quinton/T-Square Productions

Although TGP’s current B. Wright Transitional Home operates out of her Fort Bend County home, Wright’s dream of building a “Smart City” that provides access to technology, education, treatment, housing, entrepreneurship, and resources—and that is capable of housing a minimum of 1,000 residents—seems more than attainable.

Moreover, success for her Texas Greenhouse Project will bring the state a step closer to empowering young people in the LGBTQ community. “Success looks like reducing, if not completely eradicating, homelessness, trafficking, and forced sex work,” Wright says. “Reducing the prison populations as well,” she adds, “because, unfortunately, 20 percent of the people in the prison system have come through the foster system, and they’re at a much higher rate of returning.”

TGP’s success promises to provide an entire segment of the LGBTQ community with the skills to be homeowners and business owners who help boost the economy and improve the overall safety of their localities. “I’d love for this to be a model carried around the country and the world, because everyone needs a safe place and a safe environment,” Wright emphasizes.

Undeniably tenacious and ready to kick down any metaphorical doors in her way, Wright welcomes other Black women (and anyone else) to take a stand and create change as business owners. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help, which I’m terrible at,” she admits. “So I say that to myself as well.”

Wright also explains that aggressive networking, being your most true, authentic self, and continuing to learn are also keys to being successful. “People want to support you. They want to help you. They may have some advice that they can give to you and your vision. Then you can grow beyond just your initial starting point.”

For more info on the Texas Greenhouse Project, visit TheTexasGreenhouseProject.com, where you can sign up to be a sponsor. Transgender women between the ages of 18 and 24 can submit an application for transitional housing on their website.

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David Clarke

David Clarke is a freelance writer contributing arts, entertainment, and culture stories to OutSmart.
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