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How to Support Your LGBTQIA+ Friends and Family during Thanksgiving

November 21, 2023



As the leaves turn golden and the crisp autumn air fills with the aroma of pumpkin pie, families across the nation gather to celebrate Thanksgiving - a time-honored tradition that embodies gratitude, unity, and love. Yet, for many, this family gathering can also be a period of stress and anxiety, particularly for individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community.

Navigating family dynamics can be a complicated process for LGBTQIA+ individuals, who may face a myriad of challenges from misunderstandings about their identity to outright discrimination. These issues can transform what should be a warm and welcoming environment into a battlefield of discomfort and alienation.

This article is dedicated to fostering understanding and support for our LGBTQIA+ friends and family during these festive times. Let’s explore the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community during family gatherings like Thanksgiving, and provide practical advice to ensure that everyone around the table feels loved, accepted, and valued. Because Thanksgiving isn't just about the turkey and trimmings - it's about celebrating the diverse tapestry of personalities, experiences, and identities that make up our families.

Understanding the LGBTQIA+ Community

The acronym LGBTQIA+ represents a diverse group of identities including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual and/or Ally. The '+' signifies the inclusion of other sexual orientations and gender identities not specifically listed. Each term within this acronym encompasses a unique experience and identity - a beautiful kaleidoscope of human diversity.

  • Lesbian: Women who are attracted to other women.
  • Gay: Men who are attracted to other men, but it can also be used to describe women who are attracted to women.
  • Bisexual: People who are attracted to both men and women.
  • Transgender: Individuals whose gender identity does not align with the sex assigned to them at birth.
  • Queer/Questioning: Queer is an umbrella term for non-straight people; questioning refers to individuals who are unsure about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Intersex: People who have physical or genetic features that do not fit typical definitions of male or female.
  • Asexual/Ally: Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction; allies are supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community.

For more detailed discussions on these terms and identities, feel free to explore our comprehensive guide here.

According to the Pew Research Center's 2023 report, approximately 7% of Americans identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. This statistic underscores the importance of understanding and supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, as they represent a significant portion of our society.

However, despite increasing visibility and acceptance, the LGBTQIA+ community continues to face a myriad of challenges. Discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals is a widespread issue that transcends many areas of life, including family relations, social interactions, and even healthcare. This discrimination often stems from misconceptions about the lives and experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals, leading to bias, prejudice, and marginalization.

A study published in the journal Child & Family Social Work highlighted the resilience of LGBTQIA+ youth facing a range of adversities, including family and community problems, poverty, racism, and mental illness within the family. The research found that simple acts of acceptance such as using preferred pronouns can significantly improve these youths' experiences. These family dynamics can also pose challenges for LGBTQIA+ individuals, with a study in the Journal of Youth Studies highlighting how LGBTQIA+ young people navigate their family relationships in the context of social media. The study suggested that fears of family members facing backlash or discrimination can influence how these young people express themselves online.

Discrimination can also affect mental health. Research in Current Psychology showed that queer individuals reported more instances of discrimination, which correlated with higher rates of non-suicidal self-injury. For older LGBTQIA+ individuals, fear of discrimination can significantly impact their well-being. A study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry noted that older LGBTQIA+ individuals often rely on family support, emphasizing the importance of positive identity appraisal and acceptance for successful aging.

Discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals spans various aspects of daily life, from family dynamics to healthcare and workplace settings. This underscores the need for societal change, education, and advocacy to foster a more inclusive and accepting environment for all.

Ways to Support Your LGBTQIA+ Friends and Family

Thanksgiving is a time for gathering with loved ones, which includes our LGBTQIA+ friends and family. However, these gatherings can sometimes be challenging for those who identify as LGBTQIA+. Here are some ways to ensure you're offering your support and creating an inclusive environment during the holiday season:

Educate Yourself: Understanding is the first step towards acceptance. It's important to educate yourself about LGBTQIA+ experiences and identities. This doesn't just mean knowing what the acronyms stand for, but diving deeper into the issues they face and the history of their struggle for rights and acceptance. Learning about different sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions can help you empathize with their experiences. There are numerous resources available online, including articles, documentaries, and educational websites that can offer valuable insights.

Open Communication: Encourage dialogue with your LGBTQIA+ loved ones. Ask them about their experiences, listen attentively, and respond with empathy. Ensure they feel comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns. Remember, it's not about giving advice or trying to solve their problems, but about acknowledging their experiences and validating their emotions.

Respect Identity: Respect for a person's identity is fundamental. This includes using the correct names and pronouns that your LGBTQIA+ friends and family prefer. Misgendering someone or using their deadname (the name they used before transitioning) can be hurtful and disrespectful. If you're unsure about what to use, don't hesitate to ask.

Create a Safe Space: Your home should be a welcoming and accepting environment for everyone. Make sure your LGBTQIA+ friends and family feel comfortable and included during gatherings. This could involve displaying symbols of inclusion, such as the rainbow flag, or openly stating that your home is a safe space for all identities.

Stand up Against Discrimination: Unfortunately, negative comments or actions against LGBTQIA+ individuals can occur, even within family gatherings. Be prepared to counteract these negative actions. This could mean confronting the person making inappropriate comments or having a private conversation with them about why their behavior is harmful. Your support can make a significant difference and can help your LGBTQIA+ loved ones feel safer and more accepted.

By taking these steps, you can contribute to a more inclusive and supportive environment for your LGBTQIA+ friends and family, not just during Thanksgiving, but throughout the year. Your understanding, acceptance, and support can make a world of difference in their lives.

Tips for Inclusive Thanksgiving Celebrations

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to come together, share a meal, and express gratitude. When planning your Thanksgiving gathering, it's important to ensure that everyone, including your LGBTQIA+ friends and family, feels welcome and included. Here are some tips for an inclusive Thanksgiving celebration:

Planning: Including everyone in the planning process can go a long way in ensuring inclusivity. Involve your LGBTQIA+ friends and family in deciding the date, time, location, and other details of the gathering. This not only makes them feel valued but also gives them the opportunity to voice any concerns or suggestions they might have.

Conversation: The dinner table conversation can set the tone for the entire gathering. Encourage respectful and inclusive conversations that make everyone feel comfortable. Avoiding controversial topics and focusing on shared interests can help foster a positive atmosphere. Moreover, ensure that everyone has an opportunity to speak and be heard.

Tradition: Traditions are a significant part of Thanksgiving, but they can sometimes unintentionally exclude certain members. Consider incorporating new traditions that celebrate diversity and inclusion. This could involve sharing stories of acceptance, playing inclusive games, or even learning about and acknowledging the history and experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Food: Food is at the heart of Thanksgiving, and catering to different dietary preferences and restrictions is a simple yet impactful way of showing your consideration for all guests. Check with your guests beforehand about any dietary restrictions they may have, such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or food allergies, and ensure there are ample options available for everyone.

By applying these tips, you can create a Thanksgiving celebration where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. An inclusive Thanksgiving is more than just a gathering; it's a statement of acceptance and love for all, regardless of their identity.

Resources for Further Support

While personal support and understanding are essential, there are various resources available that can provide further insight into the LGBTQIA+ experience. These resources can help you better understand and support your LGBTQIA+ friends and family during Thanksgiving and beyond.

Books: There is a wealth of literature available that explores the LGBTQIA+ experience from various perspectives. Books like 'The ABC's of LGBT+' by Ashley Mardell, 'Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story' by Jacob Tobia, and 'We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation' by Matthew Riemer offer valuable insights into different aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community. For younger readers, books like 'Julian Is a Mermaid' by Jessica Love can help encourage conversations about gender identity.

Documentaries: Visual narratives can be powerful educational tools. Documentaries such as 'Paris is Burning', 'Before Stonewall', and 'The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson' provide an in-depth look at the history and struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community. More recent documentaries like 'Disclosure' showcase the representation of transgender people in media, highlighting both the progress made and the challenges that remain.

Educational Resources: Numerous organizations, like ours, offer resources designed to educate people about the LGBTQIA+ community. The Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and The Trevor Project, among others, have a variety of guides, articles, and toolkits available on their websites. These resources cover a range of topics, from understanding LGBTQIA+ terminology to offering support to someone who has just come out.

By exploring these resources, you can deepen your understanding of the LGBTQIA+ experience and become a more effective ally. Remember, supporting your LGBTQIA+ friends and family involves continually learning, listening, and advocating for them. And this support can make a significant difference, not just during Thanksgiving, but throughout their lives.

Supporting your LGBTQIA+ friends and family during Thanksgiving is of utmost importance. This holiday offers a unique opportunity to create an inclusive, welcoming environment that values diversity and fosters mutual respect. It's about more than just sharing a meal; it's about sharing love, acceptance, and understanding.

From educating yourself about the LGBTQIA+ experience, fostering open communication, and respecting identities, to creating a safe space and standing up against discrimination, every action counts. Inclusive Thanksgiving celebrations involve thoughtful planning, respectful conversations, inclusive traditions, and catering to diverse dietary preferences.

Moreover, there are numerous resources available, including books, documentaries, and educational materials, that can assist in deepening your understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community. These resources not only provide valuable insights but also equip you with the tools to better support your LGBTQIA+ loved ones.

However, it's important to remember that this support shouldn't be limited to Thanksgiving alone. Encouraging continued learning and understanding beyond the holiday season is key. Being an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community is an ongoing commitment, one that requires continuous education, empathy, and advocacy.

By extending your support, you're contributing to a world that celebrates diversity, champions equality, and cherishes all its members, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And in doing so, you're not just making Thanksgiving more meaningful for your LGBTQIA+ friends and family, but you're also taking steps towards a more inclusive and accepting society.

Written By: 

Kollyn Conrad




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