In the small city of Pocatello, Idaho, there is a place where LGBT teenagers are encouraged to be themselves. In this town with a large Mormon population, one man is attempting the seemingly impossible—to change the hearts of his community.
Tom Nestor, founder of All Under One Roof, has become a mentor to the young people of the town. In the back of the coffee shop they own, he and his partner, Kevin Lish, have built a center where all LGBT youth in the community can have a place to be free and have an open dialogue about HIV.
“This being the religious area it is, we don’t talk sexual education or testing in any of the high schools,” Nestor explains. “So we built a room. There’s a nurse that comes down and does HIV testing at any major function that we’re doing. The people can walk in and have free testing.”
Since its founding in January 2012, partly in response to the suicide of a local youth who had been bullied, All Under One Roof has been a major force behind the slow but sure progress for LGBT people in eastern Idaho. Evidence of that progress and its pace: In June the Pocatello City Council adopted an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but only after months of debate and the defeat of an earlier version of the measure in April. Not that all is rosy in the city; in February two gay men were brutally beaten while walking home from Pocatello’s only gay bar, an attack that some citizens believe was motivated by antigay bias.
Nestor is dedicated to making life safer for LGBT young people in this city of about 55,000. “I think it’s really rough [for the kids],” says Nestor. “I think the Internet makes it a lot easier for them, because they can go online and do research, or meet people—which I think is very dangerous.”
Part of the effort to keep youth safe involves educating them about HIV. One of All Under One Roof’s board members is pharmacist and Idaho State University professor Dave Hachey, who oversees the area’s HIV clinic. “He is a large part of HIV prevention here in Pocatello,” Nestor says.
Educating LGBT youth about HIV, however, is just one thread in the giant quilt that is All Under One Roof. Besides giving them a place of refuge and an education on HIV, Nestor encourages LGBT young people to get involved in their community, to show everyone they are no different from straight residents.
But despite All Under One Roof’s myriad accomplishments, Nestor doesn’t think he’s a hero. “My partner and I had our [coffee shop] that we could donate,” Nestor explains. “We just decided that if we could prevent one young person from committing suicide, it would be worth every moment we put into it.”