Meet the Man Rescuing LGBT Youth in Rural Idaho

Tom Nestor founded All Under One Roof to provide a safe space for LGBT youth in rural Idaho.

BY David Artavia

June 06 2013 5:00 AM ET

What's the gay community like in rural Idaho? I'm curious to find out how different life is, especially for young teenagers, in rural Idaho versus a big metoropolitan city.
One thing — big cities usually have coffee houses and gift shops that [market] to LGBT people, but we don’t have any of that here. I think it's really rough. I think the Internet makes it a lot easier for them because they can go online and do research, or meet people, which I think is very dangerous.

The gay community, as far as our age, is really no different in a bigger city. It's cliquish, you know. [Laughs] It’s the same thing, but yours [near the Advocate office in Los Angeles] is a larger scale. I really worked hard in the last year to get everyone together and hold hands. My board director says "let's sing 'Kumbaya,'" but we have Idaho State University here. The kids at the university have their clubs and stuff, which is why we wanted our kids to be from 13 to 18. There's nothing here for them. That's why we thought it was so necessary. I remember those years. Pocatello still has our dominant religion. But it doesn't matter if we have the Mormons here or the Bible-thumpers back east or the Catholics. No matter where you are, they will have that control, which is no good for us.  

Because Pocatello is a university town, which is slightly more diverse by nature, I’m wondering if you think the center would have been as welcomed as it has been if it was founded in another part of rural Idaho? 
At the university, there are clubs, but they’ve really forced themselves to go in, because we have a huge Mormon institution here, which still has a lot of control over that. In fact, we opened All Under One Roof as "Advocates of Eastern Idaho," and the reason why we did that was for the 501(c)3 [nonprofit status] so we can help other organizations. Idaho Falls is 45 minutes away from here, and of course, they have resources in that area. The reason why we opened in eastern Idaho is if they wanted to do something like this, we can branch out as All Under One Roof and use the same 501(c)3 so they won't have to go through all the paperwork. People come to Pocatello because we have a gay bar, and they usually come down for that, but I don’t see it growing and going to other places.  

Well, this is how enormous things happen, by starting small. What do you want this organization to ultimately accomplish? What's your plan for the future?
The whole reason why All Under One Roof started was because of antibullying. There's tons of grant money there that you can apply for, but what I want it to become is an LGBT center for everybody. I would love to see a stage program. I'd like to eventually see if we can get something where we can encompass that, the testing, and the youth program; to start helping everybody. I think one of my biggest reasons for opening the center is not only to help the kids, but in this area everyone has viewed the LGBT community as only our local drag queens. I really want to mentor the kids [and show them] that there's a lot more out there. You can be anything you want. I want to teach Pocatello that we're more than just drag queens. We're doctors, we're lawyers, we're everybody else, and you can be that. I think that’s a local problem with the community, because when we had the women's movement, they knew who they were. When we had the black movement, they knew who they were. But now we're fighting for equality and they don’t know. Hell, I might be your husband's boyfriend! [Laughs]  They don’t know who we are, and I think they're running scared because of that.  

What do you think might raise more awareness or get more support for the organization?
We beg for money to keep these doors open. We can grow a lot faster than what we're doing, but we're working with the dollars we have. We need sponsorship. There's a lot of giving people, but you can't keep going to them, because they give what they can, and eventually we're going to run out. I can honestly tell you, there was a man coming to the center when we first opened who quit showing up. His mother came in and gave me the biggest hug and thanked me. She knew that because of the center, we kept him from commiting suicide. Now that boy is transitioning and they're going to make it through because of the center and it's resources. I guess we must be doing it correctly.

When we started a year ago, we started putting things together. We've been doing AIDS awareness projects. We did the teddy bear function where people donate teddy bears that end up going to all the local hospitals. The donors knew it was our organization that was doing it. One of the things that made me so happy was seeing the parents donating these teddy bears to an LGBT center knowing that it's going to help somebody — and it's those children that are going to make a difference in accepting us down the road. In the years we've been working on it, there's days I want throw my hands up and go "Oh, my God! All the work I have to put into this!" But seeing the kids with the teddy bears, knowing that we can help a 10-year-old trans girl, knowing that we can keep another kid from committing suicide because of the resources we have here, it’s amazing. I think that the support we have in this small territory is because of the people we have on the board. Everyone knows that we're trustworthy. We're not going to be a fly-by-night thing.  

Hopefully you can inspire other organizations to do the same. 
The other day, we went to a city hearing and I had tears in my eyes. We were there for the nondiscrimination ordinance. There was a 63-year-old woman who was in a walker. She walked up to the podium. She had three minutes to speak. She came out that night and told everyone that she was gay. It was the first time she ever told anybody. She said she was tired of living in fear. We invited her to our fund-raiser, and when one of our board members knocked on her door, she barely opened it to get the invitation. We passed by her yard the other day, and one of the projects we're doing now is a yard clean-up and maintenance to help her out. That's the thing I want the youth to get into — community projects, to show everyone that gays, lesbians, and transsexuals are no different than they are. 

 

Editor's Note: Two answers were removed from this article at the request of a parent whose child's story was mentioned by Nestor.

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