This youth worker is giving young LGBTQ people a Queer Black Christmas
Queer Black Christmas is an event giving community back to black LGBTQ+ folk who are estranged from or have a strained relationship with their family.
Courtesy of Karis Beaumont
Christmas time: a holiday touted as one for merriment, gift-giving and spending quality time with your family. However, for many LGBTQ+ people, the idea of returning home, particularly for the holidays, can be an prospect at best uncomfortable, and impossible at worst. It’s why Tanya Compas, an LGBTQ+ youth worker, decided to launch Queer Black Christmas.
“Christmas has always been one of my favourite times of the year,” Tanya explains, “but once I came into my queerness, over the Christmas period, some family members would ask awkward questions, like ‘Who’s the man in your relationship?’ Over time, it just got harder and harder.”
With an understanding of the impact and triggers that can occur around the holiday season, Tayna decided that she would host an event for people like her -- young queer Black people, who feel displaced over Christmas –- and provide them with somewhere to find warmth and solidarity.
Such an event is sorely needed. Earlier this year, an online poll by YouGov conducted on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity akt found that 26% of 2109 adults surveyed would not “feel proud to have an LGBT child”, and that one in 10 people would not feel comfortable living at home with their LGBT child. In akt’s 2015 report “LGBT Youth Homelessness: A UK National Scoping of Cause, Prevalence, Response & Outcome”, the charity found that “young people who identify as LGBT are grossly over-represented within youth homeless populations”, with the top three reasons for LGBT homelessness listed as “parental rejection”, “abuse within the family (physical, emotional, sexual)” and “aggression/violence in the family”; experiences of familial rejection that can only become more heightened around family-orientated holidays.
“Not every young person has any form of network around them, so the whole period itself is actually really sad, isolating and depressing,” Tanya says. “Even my therapist said that over the Christmas period, her referral rates double. People find the Christmas period so hard because you’re meant to spend so much of it with your family and that can be quite triggering for some people.”
Over the last year, Tanya says she has little contact with her family as a means of protecting herself and as a result, she’s found the Christmas period difficult. “Not spending Christmas with my family is a whole new ball game and it made me a bit sad, but equally I have to do it for them and for my own mental health; I have to recreate Christmas in a way that I want to see it.”
It was the catalyst that that inspired he to launch a crowdfunder campaign for “Queer Black Christmas” at the end of November. “The event idea came together because I was feeling a bit sad over Christmas,” Tanya recalls. ”And while I’m grateful to be spending it with my partner and her family. I’ve still got support and friends around -- not everyone has that, especially young Black LGBTQ+ people who are on their own.”
LGBT youth who no longer have contact with their families are at a much greater risk of danger and harm that non-LGBT youth experiencing homelessness. As akt reports, they are more likely to “experience targeted violence and discrimination, develop substance abuse problems, be exposed to sexual exploitation, and engage in higher levels of risky sexual behaviour”. This becomes further compounded when the LGBTQ+ young person is also Black, considering the risks posed to young Black people on the streets through measures such as stop and search and other ‘anti-terror tactics’ that disproportionately target people of colour.
Queer Black Christmas aims to provide a little bit of solace during this period, inviting Black LGBTQ+ people from across the country to come together for festivities and meals, particularly those who do not have family they can spend the holiday with.
“Over half of the young people attending the event are currently experiencing homelessness or living in temporary accommodation,” Tanya says. “I’m giving everyone a £40 present and one young person asked if they could have a £40 ASDA voucher instead of a present because they have to rely on food banks over the Christmas period.”
When initially setting up the crowdfunder, the goal was to reach a target of £1,200 to cover the food and the travel of the young people. Within a day, £2,000 was donated, with Tanya successfully raising £7,522 in total over just 15 days.
“The added money has given me the opportunity to go the extra mile in terms of covering the costs for people outside of London to come down and even pay for their accommodation for a night,” Tanya says. “I’ve also been able to set aside money to give to other community groups, such as Trans Winter Wonderland and Misery, who are holding events over Christmas. I know that I have a platform, which is a massive privilege especially when it comes to fundraising, so it’s a way of addressing that imbalance and give back -- no one person should have a monopoly on helping within our communities.”
Hosted in a central London venue, the day-long event will include intention-setting workshops, games, food and more for the young people attending from all over the country. They will be served up a three-course Caribbean Christmas meal made by sisterwoman vegan, receive personalised Christmas stockings filled with donated gifts, and have the opportunity to meet influential Black LGBTQ+ people within an intimate setting.
“From my experience,” Tanya says, “the young people always say how much they love meeting so many people and meeting the people who are creating the events in the community or are very visible in the community so when they get to meet them on a one-on-one basis, it’s special because it makes them feel seen.”
She continues: “Without my friends this year, I don’t know if I’d even be here if I’m being honest. The people have held me up me and I want to give other young queer Black people the opportunity to find their own support networks.”
The crowdfunder for Queer Black Christmas has now closed. If you want to find out more information or are still interested in donating, you can email Tanya Compas directly here.