DES MOINES, Iowa -- For many people, Christmas is a joyous time of year. A day spent laughing and relaxing with family. However, for those who identify as LGBTQ, this time could be spent holding their breath.
“It's one of the scariest times of the year because you have all these different family members coming over, they get outed very easily so being outed as someone saying what your sexual orientation or gender identity is without your permission,” Executive Director at Iowa Safe Schools, Nate Monson said.
If a person does get outed, some don’t have supportive families who accept their identity.
“Sometimes the families react not so pleasantly. And so for the youth, they feel like I can't be at home because it's not safe,” Monson said.
So some children end up homeless, and this is not uncommon. A recent study by the University of Chicago revealed that LGBTQ youth still have a 120% higher risk of experiencing homelessness nationwide than anyone else. That study also reported that 99% of homeless shelter providers have worked with LGBTQ youth.
Fortunately, many Iowans in this position turn to organizations like Iowa Safe Schools or, YSS, a youth homeless shelter located downtown. YSS Program Manager, Elizabeth Patten, said many, if not most, of the children at YSS identify as LGBTQ or on the spectrum which is why their goal is to make the kids feel as comfortable as possible.
“We just don't want to be tolerant of the youth we want to be fully embracing their identities,” Patten said. “So, as we start our intake process we asked individuals what gender pronouns they prefer we ask their sexual orientation, we make sure to show them our individual rooms and our gender-neutral bathrooms, and we start that foundation that we are a supportive place where they can feel open to.”
Nate Monson said that organizations like Iowa Safe Schools and Y.S.S, are doing their best to provide for children in this predicament, but more responsibility for the well being of these kids should be put on schools as well. However, he also says that’s hard when some districts, especially those in more rural areas don’t have the resources they need.
“Well, it absolutely is an issue in Iowa, and I think, school districts are doing the best they can. We care about students, I've spent a large part of my career in smaller rural areas too. And I can tell you that what Iowa Safe Schools says is true,” Superintendent of Indianola School District, Art Sathosf, said.
Central Iowa school districts are working with the resources they’re given. Indianola is currently putting its staff through training, partnering with organizations that cater to the homeless and providing online learning for kids who can’t make it to school. Sathosf still said there's always more to be done.
Hair company, Pantene recently released a campaign called, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" in hopes of bringing awareness to the challenges many LGBTQ people face during this time of year.