by Allyee, Wes, and everyone at the Trevor Project
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Ehhh… Not so fast. For so many LGBTQ young people, the holidays can be a stressful and challenging time. In addition to the regular obstacles that we encounter during the holidays (what presents to buy, how many treats to indulge in, which ugly sweater to wear), LGBTQ young people often face added layers of stress.
At The Trevor Project, we hear from young people from all kinds of backgrounds about their experiences with the holidays. This might include traveling home for the holidays, spending more time than normal with family while being on break from school, or not going home at all. Of course, some young people return to supportive or welcoming homes and loved ones. However, this doesn’t necessarily protect them from potentially triggering or traumatic situations. All of these different situations might bring up experiences like:
Having family members who may be openly hostile towards their LGBTQ identity;
being around family and having to go back into the closet, even if they are out in other environments. This can be especially difficult for trans*, genderqueer or gender non-conforming youth who may have to revert to unwanted gender expressions, names, or pronouns;
not feeling safe or supported enough to go home or visit family and/or watching friends and loved ones visit their families when they have faced rejection or hostility from their own;
being homeless due to family rejection or hostility – something that we know LGBTQ young people are disproportionately affected by.
There are a multitude of hypotheticals we could address, especially when it comes to young LGBTQ people with intersecting identities. What is not a hypothetical is the simple fact that every young person deserves the chance to thrive, regardless of their identities. To this end, we’ve provided a few helpful strategies that might help you navigate this time of year with the young LGBTQ person in your life.
Respect boundaries. If a young person in your life doesn’t want to talk about something, don’t force them to. If they need time alone, respect that. It is a very brave and hard thing to do to set boundaries, so when people make it clear what they need, try hard to respect that!
Be an ally. It can feel really lonely to be the only LGBTQ person around the table, so this is a super important time to be an ally. One way you could do this is to ask beforehand, what are some safe topics of conversation and what are off limits. This way when you see a topic headed into a danger zone, you can help step in and guide the conversation away, or lend back up support to helping others respect boundaries. “Charlie doesn’t want to discuss this, so I think we could all try and respect that.”
Find a welcoming and affirming religious congregation. For some families, the holidays often mean going to church, synagogue or other religious ceremonies. For many LGBTQ people, participating in these ceremonies during the holidays provides a space for reflection, gratitude and feelings of fulfillment. For other people, these environments could sometimes feel divisive if their specific congregation isn’t inclusive of LGBTQ folks. If you are looking to attend a religious ceremony during the holidays, you might be able to find a welcoming and affirming congregation in the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources.
Do not ‘out’ a young person or put them back in the closet. Check in with them privately first about what they want and how they are feeling. “Do you want me to tell people at the church to use “He/Him/His” pronouns?” “I can’t remember, does Aunty M know that you’re bisexual?”
Help identify safe places, somewhere they can go to be alone or with loved ones if they feel upset or threatened.
Budget personal time to decompress. You can’t help others, unless you help yourself first. It is especially important for you to practice self care during the holidays, so you can bring your best ally self to the front lines.
Finally, remember that Trevor is here 24/7 at 1-866-7386, including every single holiday. Our trained counselors are there for LGBTQ youth, their parents and families, to listen to whatever it is that they are going through.
This time of year often presents itself as a time for reflection and gratitude. Sometimes, it can feel almost impossible to find things to be grateful for. At Trevor, we feel tremendously grateful for your trust in us in helping you through those dark times.
We’ll be here every day if you need us. You are never alone.
Allyee Whaley is a Crisis Services Coordinator at The Trevor Project, the leading national suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth. Allyee manages “Ask Trevor,” an international online Q&A resource for young people regarding sexual orientation and gender identity as well as coordinates operations on The Trevor Project’s 24/7 national suicide prevention lifeline. Allyee has long strived to create balance in the universe by listening attentively, advocating ruthlessly, and loving compassionately. She is an openly polyamorous queer based in New York City who will talk your ear off about anthropology, human sexuality, social justice, and mystical creatures.
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