Jonathan Lee, Rainbow Center

Chosen families offer love for LGBTQIA+ youth

Jonathan Lee, Rainbow CenterCONCORD, CA (Dec. 15, 2023) — During the holiday season, I am reminded of the power of chosen families that LGBTQIA+ people and our allies have formed and relied on.

According to a 2022 report by the Trevor Project, 28% of LGBTQIA+ youth reported experiencing some degree of housing insecurity at some point in their lives. An earlier study from the University of Chicago found that LGBTQIA+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness compared to non-LGBTQIA+ youth.

Both studies concluded that this is directly correlated to increased mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal ideations among LGBTQIA+ youth.

While not a panacea for the problem of LGBTQIA+ youth homelessness, the chosen family – vernacularly defined as a group of people who are not biologically related – is an important social unit in queer culture. For LGBTQIA+ people, social bonds between friends and allies are liberating, transformative and life-saving.

LGBTQIA+ chosen families offer ongoing support to one another based on unconditional love and respect. They form naturally out of shared experiences of growing up queer and based on a mutual desire for belonging and human connections.

In the space of a chosen family, LGBTQIA+ people are able to be themselves – without performing or sacrificing authenticity to minimize judgment from the ones who should unconditionally love them.

Fans of the hit FX drama series “Pose” are familiar with the chosen families of New York City’s ballroom culture. In “Pose,” chosen family members have all experienced abandonment and alienation from their biological relatives. Among their chosen family members, they discover their worth, dignity and value as human beings.

Their familial bonds are real, reliable and efficacious. In this dynamic space, their queerness changes from a source of harm and hurt to a gift of individuality, creativity and self-expression.
Being queer is not a sentence to a life of suffering, ridicule or eternal damnation. It is a testimonial to the power of self-discovery and an embrace of differences and, more importantly, a statement that love transcends consanguinity.

In these chosen families, kids are allowed to exist as they are. They are celebrated, if not encouraged, to march to the beat of a different drummer. The possibility of being human is strengthened by centering differences.

This holiday season, expand your family and transform it. Invite an LGBTQIA+ individual to your family holiday celebrations. Include an LGBTQIA+ youth who’d rather hang around your home instead of their own.

Chosen families develop naturally, but they also require effort, care, consideration and the cultivation of belonging. Your family becomes their chosen family and, by extension, a lifeline during a season known for increasing holiday-related blues. Your family’s expansion will liberate everyone, transform everyone and possibly save the life of an LGBTQIA+ individual – friend or family.

Jonathan Lee is the interim executive director of the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County. Visit

Jonathan Lee