Santa Claus handed out presents the other day in Denver.
Nothing too unusual about that, except this: Along with a jolly red suit, Santa wore a face shield. And people lined up in cars to get their gifts. From "Queer Santa." During a pandemic.
Seventy-seven-year-old Linda Warren is that Santa Claus. Her mission, she says, is to make sure kids rejected by their parents for their sexuality or gender identity still get presents this time of year.
This is her 22nd year handing out gifts at the Holigay celebration put on by The Center on Colfax, a community center and advocacy resource for LGBTQ youth.
"My family did find out I was gay after I was grown and they disowned me," Warren told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. "So it's very important to me, to make sure that all children are taken care of and that we can do anything that we can."
Here’s how it works, and how The Center adapted to pandemic rules: Warren asks for donations during the year - “no one’s safe” from her requests, she joked. The kids sign up for a gift. Then the volunteers buy gift cards, fun things like rainbow socks, and candy, and wrap the presents.
This year instead of handing out the gifts at a party, The Center set up a group of tables loaded down with presents in its parking lot. All afternoon last Saturday, cars lined up with kids in back, and Queer Santa and her volunteer helpers delivered the presents to the waiting cars. Sixty-one people showed up - the most they’ve ever had.
“In all my 77 years, I don't believe I've ever seen a year like this,” she said.
Linda Warren on how the Queer Santa tradition got started:
"It was with children who would not get a Christmas present because they were gay and their parents did not accept them. Twenty-two years ago. ... I told the people at The Center that I would do this, but that I did not want anyone turned down. They did not have to be gay. It was just if they were not going to get a present because they had been put out of their home, I wanted to make sure that they were taken care of."
On what being called Queer Santa means to her:
"The word 'queer' was used to make fun of us when I was growing up. But I had to finally realize that the children of this day in time have taken that word back, and they will not let people make fun of us by using queer. So, it took me awhile to get used to being 'Queer Santa,' but I did. So I was like, 'Oh God, please don't call me that.' But then I was like, 'It's alright, it's theirs. So, we will do it.' And so now I just refer to myself as Queer Santa."
Warren on why the gift-giving is so important to her:
"Back when I was coming up, you weren't accepted at all. If anyone found out you were gay, you wouldn't have any friends hardly. My family did find out I was gay after I was grown and they disowned me. So it's very important to me, to make sure that all children are taken care of and that we can do anything that we can."
What does Warren want for Christmas?
"What do I want for Christmas? I would love for us to have peace and happiness and for this 2020 to go away and for the mask to not have to be worn. Yeah, there's a lot. In all my 77 years, I don't believe I've ever seen a year like this."
Editor's Note: Captions on photos in this story previously had Linda Warren's incorrect age. She is 77, not 78. A caption also misstated Nevaha Jackson's title — they are a youth intern, not a volunteer.