I looked both students in the eyes and asked, “How are you doing? I hope I didn’t just overwhelm you more with this information. I know you both are feeling so much right now.”
They looked at each other, looked at me, sat back, and each let out a long exhale. One of them said, “Thank you so much, I feel a lot better knowing there are people who care and are willing to help.”
The day before, I’d received an email from their teacher and GSA advisor very early in the morning, who was traveling abroad. He’d reached out because he knew these students needed help. He had let me know that one of them had been kicked out of their home and the other was living at home in a tense environment where it may not be safe to come out. While the teacher believed the student who had been kicked out of their home was now safe with a friend whose parents are supportive of LGBTQ+ youth, he wanted to know if I knew of any local resources and asked about connecting me with the student’s partner who is also in the GSA.
Hearing this news from their teacher, my heart immediately sank. It had been snowing for two consistent days—the tail end of a long, arduous winter here in Helena and across Montana. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around this idea that a parent would tell their child they couldn’t live at home anymore. Not only did this youth’s father kick them out in the snow, but it was also Spring Break week, so they didn’t even have school to rely on for warmth.
In one vein, I knew I shouldn’t be that surprised. We hear it all the time in our community— parents and families who can’t reconcile another family member’s identity as an LGBTQ person. The other part of me, though, the part that couldn’t help but respond with emotion, was heartbroken and upset.
This is my community. I grew up here. I live here. This reality felt far too sharp to understand—and I felt it deep in my heart.
The short answer is, there are no services for emergency housing for youth, and particularly LGBTQ+ youth, in Helena. So, while the news was in and of itself heartbreaking, I was wrestling with the idea that there was very little referral or help I could provide. The reality is, queer and trans youth are experiencing homelessness across Montana due to family rejection and, as a result, they face housing instability at disproportionate rates.
On the flip side, the reality I quickly learned is that there are people across Montana who care deeply for each other—especially queer youth who are being forced to look for temporary, or even longer-term housing due to often sudden and heart-wrenching circumstances.
My heartbreak and frustration quickly turned to action.
I put a message out into the world: if needed, could anyone provide short to long-term respite for one to two queer and trans youth who did not have supportive family? The response was overwhelming. People I didn’t even know saw my message and reached out. People were sharing with their networks and connecting me with folks they know who could potentially help.
My feelings of helplessness and sadness were suddenly overtaken by gratitude. So many people were willing to help—and it reminded me of just how much good and hope is in this world.
People in Montana often say our state is just one large community connected by roads and highways, and I’ve never felt that more than I did in this moment. People from different areas of the state heard the call for help and reached out. Some for the immediate need and some to let me know that if this happens again in their community, they are willing to house LGBTQ+ youth who have been displaced by their families of origin.
Together, people in Montana are working to support LGBTQ+ youth in their communities to make sure their experiences with housing instability are brief, temporary, and one-time. I’m feeling incredibly grateful and hopeful for these relationships and knowing there are people across this great big state committed to helping reduce harm and supporting and affirming queer youth.
Because no youth or young adult should have to face this awful experience simply for being who they are.
Kim Leighton is Pride Foundation’s Regional Philanthropy Officer in Montana.