Thanksgiving is upon us and we’re looking at Christmas next month, unequivocally the time of the year to focus on family, friends, and loved ones.
If you grew up in this area, regardless of where you are now, we’re a people bred of farmers and we value hard work and family above everything else. It certainly helps that our harsh winters keep us indoors and together.
A few months back I wrote an article about why people should move away from North Dakota. I followed that up with a piece showcasing the perspective of the people who have left. While the reasons were diverse, the themes that emerged were a lack of acceptance, opportunity, or safety. Some would come back a few times a year to see their family, but others had left for good.
With all of this mind, I’d like to go over some things to think about when seeing your LGBTQ+ family members during this holiday season.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that religion tends to be the big hold-up, where people have to balance their faith with accepting and loving their family members. The fortunate news is that we now have very inclusive and affirming churches. We have affirming religions of every order, who interpret and defend scripture as accepting of LGBTQ+ people.
In this regard, religion doesn’t have to be a barrier to speaking with your family member and I highly recommend talking with individuals like Reverend Joe Larson, Reverend Michelle Webber, or Reverend Grace Murray to learn more on how religion and LGBTQ+ acceptance can intersect.
Religion aside, one of the biggest problem lesbian, gay, or bisexual people have is when they bring home a significant other who is completely ignored. It may be unintentional, it may just be awkwardness, but it creates a very intimidating place where someone’s partner feels the full effect of being an outsider.
It is important to take some extra steps to include someone’s partner, regardless of sexuality, in the family. I don’t mean just throw them into some family game, I mean talk to them and see what they’d like, see what you can do for them, and what they’d like to provide during the holiday get-together. Because if they don’t feel welcomed or included, maybe next year you won’t see them or your actual family member.
One of the biggest problems for trans individuals is simply having their name and pronouns respected. I’ve heard some families demanding their trans family members only present as their sex assigned at birth or that they weren’t welcome.
I’ve heard of family members doing research on anti-trans talking points, so they’d be ready to challenge their trans family member the second they walked through the door.
Not only do those situations create a hostile environment where a trans person isn’t likely to want to ever return, it also a factor in why trans individuals attempting suicide is ten times the national average.
The best thing a family can do is acknowledge, embrace, and validate their family member’s gender identity. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to slip up on names and pronouns, if a person corrects themselves when they make those mistakes.
Just understand that being trans isn’t a choice or a lifestyle and the only clinically effective method that allows a trans person to be happy is validating their gender.
As a final thought, family gatherings can be dozens of people with varying degrees of acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. It is important for parents and family leaders to set the tone of what is acceptable behavior and stand up for their LGBTQ+ family members when harassment occurs.
This is by no means a comprehensive look at this, but if family is important to you, this article should be a good primer to understand that works needs to be done if you want to keep your LGBTQ+ family members in your life.
Personally, I don't seeing being in the LGBTQ+ community as a choice or a lifestyle. It's part of who we are as humans and it's really unfortunate that it’s treated as both a political talking point and religious punching bag. It is tragic that 70% of homeless LGBTQ+ youth are on the street because of family rejection.
Being LGBTQ+ isn't something that can be changed, but I do feel we have a choice in how we embrace it.
[Editor’s note: Fae Seidler is North Dakota Safe Zone Project Spokeswoman]
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