"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," she said.
Linda Warren was preparing for a holiday party on Christmas Eve two decades ago when she received a call that would change her life. The person on the other end of the call – someone who worked at the GLBT Community Center of Colorado — informed her that presents for the LGBTQ children's holiday party had fallen through at the last moment. Without hesitation, Warren put her own holiday plans on hold and bought gift cards for children who'd been rejected by their parents with her own money. Thus "Queer Santa" was born, a role she has reprised every year since, with the wholesome tradition growing bigger and better each year.
I had the privilege of meeting 76-year-old Linda Warren, self-proclaimed "Queer Santa," who has been giving Colorado's LGBTQ youth Christmas presents for 20 years thanks to one desperate phone call. Read: https://t.co/7kTkDy7USX via @denverpost #GoodNews pic.twitter.com/SohEeG6Jsh— Elizabeth Hernandez (@ehernandez) December 19, 2018
"It was with children who would not get a Christmas present because they were gay and their parents did not accept them," Warren told CPR about the tradition's inception. "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." This year, Warren's 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 — they had their largest turnout yet with 61 people showing up for the festivities.
Met "Queer Santa" Linda Warren today. She's 78 and has for 22 years led the annual Holigay day for LGBTQ youth in Denver at The Center on East Colfax. This year there was a pandemic-friendly drive-thru gift pickup. For @cprwarner and @ColoradoMatters. Profile soon. pic.twitter.com/7Gfpa2bChj— Hart W. Van Denburg (@hartoutwest) December 5, 2020
Wearing a face shield and a jolly red suit, the 77-year-old and her volunteer helpers delivered the presents to the waiting cars in the socially distanced celebration. The Center adapted the annual event to meet pandemic requirements this time, giving kids the opportunity to sign up for a gift. The volunteers bought gift cards, fun things like rainbow socks, and candy, with funds raised by Warren throughout the year, wrapped the presents, and set them all up on a group of tables in the center's parking lot. "In all my 77 years, I don't believe I've ever seen a year like this," Warren said of the turnout.
Linda Warren says that when her family found out she was gay, they disowned her. So for the past 22 years, she's dressed up as "Queer Santa" and made sure that other kids rejected by their families still get presents. @CPRNews https://t.co/D0c5NdI0XB— NPR (@NPR) December 16, 2020
"From the very start, there was one thing I required of the gifts," Warren told The Denver Post. "I said, ‘I don’t know a lot about this, but I feel the children don't get a lot of love,’ so I wanted them all to have a tag that said, ‘Love, Santa.'" Speaking of what the name Queer Santa means to her, she said: "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 a while 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."
Seventy-seven-year-old Linda Warren is "Queer Santa". 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. https://t.co/8w0vhPHV7t pic.twitter.com/8Cv6GAUzTM— cprnews (@CPRNews) December 16, 2020
"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," she added. To make sure no child feels left out of the holiday spirit for years to come, Warren already has found a successor to fill her Santa boots. "A part of me doesn’t want to quit until I just keel over, but another part of me says that’s not very giving," she said. "It’s selfish to not let someone else have the enjoyment and fun that I’ve had the last 20 years."