Now that we have survived Thanksgiving, we begin descending into another round of holiday parties and merriment. During this time, we often overlook the very real plight of many in the LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, discrimination is still rampant -- whether it is in terms of overt homophobia or transphobia, or in awkward, but not necessarily malicious, ways. Families can be torn apart quickly by rejection of those who have come out, or they can be slowly shredded when significant others are ignored or alienated.
We see innumerable examples of those who are disowned by their family for being queer -- leading to some horrific results. Less obvious, but nonetheless distressing, are the many families that are harmed over time by treating LGBTQIA+ individuals as less than.
With major corporations including "gay elements" in their advertising (such as the Campbell's "Two Dads" commercial or the Kohl's commercial featuring gay family members), it is easy to think we've reached an acceptable level of equality. Yet, among my own group of friends, many have experienced either outright discrimination or have just felt the stinging barb of a stereotype:
- Are people who have been invited to attend Christmas festivities with their families but their partners are not welcome to join them -- yet their cis/hetero counterparts are welcome to bring their boyfriends or girlfriends.
- Some have shared examples of arriving at a party and being recruited only for the clichéd gay things: folding napkins, decorating, et cetera.
- Being asked, "when are you going to find a nice girl to settle down with?" when their partner is sitting next to them.
- Having introductions of their partners as "oh, that's his friend Mike." Sure, they're friends but they're more than that.
Taking these in stride may make things less awkward but certainly they won't be any less hurtful -- and they're not likely going to get better on their own. Focus on gently correcting offensive behavior using a little bit of humor, a little bit of tact, and a dash of humility; being abusive our argumentative isn't going to win your case.
When your family chooses to extend an invitation that doesn't include your significant other: turn it down. If Martha Stewart isn't your role model, skip the napkins and decorating and offer to set up chairs or take out the trash instead. Should you be asked when you're going to find a nice girl, respond that you've already found a nice guy. Feel free to make introductions yourself -- or clarify them -- if Cousin Susan oh-so-tactfully forgets to say "boyfriend" when introducing him to some far flung relation. Try to remain cognizant of your partner's emotional needs during this time as well -- don't make him a piece in a game of familial chess and don't allow him to be hurt by not standing up for him.
You may be lucky enough that you won't have to experience any of this directed at you; however, you may see this in your family or among your acquaintances. Please speak up for those who can't. For example, your young niece may be questioning her sexuality, but may not have come out.
Feeling enormous pressure to have a cheerful, bright holiday can often trigger mental health issues amongst those within the queer community. According to Psych Central, during the holiday season, rates of depression starkly increase. A Williams Institute study claims at least forty percent of homeless youth identify somewhere within the queer community. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published several studies showing that LGBTQIA+ people have significantly higher instances of suicide or suicidal ideation. To help LGBT(QIA+) people counter this, PFLAG, the largest LGBT(QIA+) family and ally organization in the United States, issues a list of tips for coping with family over the holidays. Most of their advice focuses on keeping the peace through remembering your family's issues are their own and not yours. They make a valid point, but being tolerated isn't the same as being accepted.
Feel free to let your grandparents feel a little bit awkward around the dinner table. If they can announce their support for Donald Trump's (blood curdling) run for the presidency, you can announce your upcoming vacation plans with your partner. The holidays are a season for celebrating love -- remind your family and friends of that.