Content Warning: This story includes information about violence and suicide. If you or someone you know needs support now, reach out to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Call or text 988, or chat 988lifeline.org.
“I felt that in order for me to be loved, I had to deny who I was.”
That’s what Diverse & Resilient President and CEO, Chris Allen thought when he was 15 years old. After coming out to his biological parents, their reactions were anything but supportive. Instead, they physically and verbally abused him. While hiding his sexual orientation, Chris experienced homelessness and began to believe that if people who should have loved him wouldn’t, that he wasn’t meant to go on.
After a stay in the hospital following an attempted suicide, his cousin sat with him. She listened. She cared.
“After she found out what was going on, she said, ‘You’re coming with me. You’re going to live with me.’” There, Chris finally found a loving, supportive family and father in his uncle. Chris’ cousin further researched ways that she could continue to support him: what it meant to be gay and how to better support LGBTQ+ individuals. That’s when she found Diverse & Resilient.
Diverse & Resilient was founded in 1995 with a mission to improve the health, safety, and well-being of LGBTQ+ people and communities in Wisconsin. Health disparities for LGBTQ+ individuals exist in mental health, physical health, partner and community violence, and substance use. For every individual, mostly youth, who walk through their doors, Diverse & Resilient staff look for ways to improve their well-being. In some cases, they have been able to provide emergency funding for someone fleeing abuse and experiencing homelessness. They provide support in navigating the legal system, offer screenings and connections to health services, and advocate.
The organization advocates not only for themselves, but also for the community. They look to build relationships with allies to help them break systemic barriers and reduce the stigma surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. As violence towards this community grows nationwide, Diverse & Resilient works to raise awareness and reduce the fear and discrimination the LGBTQ+ community faces.
“What we don’t understand or don’t know, it’s easy for us to hear these messages, internalize them, and not seek additional information to keep us informed and educated,” Chris explained. “We’re seeing people feel more empowered to express hatred.”
Since joining Diverse & Resilient in 2002 as a Youth Advisor, Chris had always found love and compassion from his fellow advisors up to Gary Hollander, the organization’s President and CEO at the time. The love that came from this organization resonated with Chris and reminded him that it doesn’t matter who you are, it just matters that you’re here.
“I found a place where I felt like who I was wasn’t just tolerated, it was something that was supported and celebrated,” Chris remembered. “It really changed my perspective on who I was, and how I began to accept myself.”
Chris has grown with Diverse & Resilient because he believes in their mission. Youth Advisors, just like he was, continue to help LGBTQ+ youth feel empowered to speak up and out against hatred. In addition to being advocates in the community, they remain dedicated to listening to youth who are struggling with their identity, the social climate, or physical and emotional harm. Youth Advisors, and all staff at Diverse & Resilient, are people who have lived experiences – either from someone they know, or from having faced these situations themselves. They are youth and adults that individuals can trust.
Now under Chris’ leadership as CEO and President, the organization continues to support, educate, and develop young leaders.
“You never know the countless lives you touch just by touching that one person’s life,” Chris said. “It’s a ripple effect that we can have throughout our community, just by showing one person love and compassion.”
When you give to United Way, you're not just making a donation. You're changing a life. Organizations like Diverse & Resilient are a powerful reminder that to live better, we must Live United.