By Grace Manger
Thanksgiving is upon us, just two short weeks after an election that has left millions feeling scared, angry, and hurt. Many of us in the LGBTQ community are feeling nervous about this upcoming holiday, knowing that we will be breaking bread with relatives who voted in ways that threatened our rights and safety.
As the parent of an LGBTQ kid, you may be feeling nervous for similar reasons as we enter into the holiday season—and that is completely understandable! Your support and allyship are essential every day, but especially so if you will be spending the holidays with less-than-supportive relatives. Here are some things you can do to make sure your child has as safe and supportive a holiday as possible.
1. First and foremost, talk with your child
My hope is that you have already taken our advice and created space for open conversation with your child around the election. Even so, it is now time to have a holiday-specific discussion with them. Here are some suggestions of things to ask them:
• How are you feeling about spending the holiday with ___?
• Is there anyone specifically you are nervous to see or talk to?
• How would you like me to respond if I hear something offensive?
• Should we have a plan for something that you can say to me if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed and need to take a break?
2. Do your research, and be prepared to stand up for your kid
While it is likely best to avoid political conversation in tense holiday environments (see our next point!), it is still important to learn all you can about the issues, and practice explaining them clearly and concisely. It is not your child’s responsibility to explain to their grandmother why having a Vice President that believes in conversion therapy is dangerous and harmful. As their parent and their ally, you can help tremendously by being the first one to call out racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks. Just be sure to not talk over your kid if they do want engage with their relatives—this is why having the preliminary conversation we talked about in our first point is so important!
3. Prepare to deflect
Engaging with your family on your child’s behalf is a powerful and important thing to do. However, as we mentioned above, a holiday gathering may not be the best time to have those conversations. In fact, it might be your child’s preference to quell political conversations before they begin, rather than engaging with them during what is already a fraught time. Know your plan, and come ready with ways to deflect and disengage from politically-charged comments. For example: “You know, for today, I would much rather talk about things like Sally’s dance recital last week—how did it go?”
4. Take a walk.
Or an extra-long bathroom break. Or—my personal go-to—offer to run to the store for that last-minute forgotten item. If the atmosphere gets too political or overwhelming, don’t be afraid to excuse yourself and your child from the situation and find a way to relax and recenter. Just be sure to communicate with your kid if and when you need to take a step away to see if they’d like to join you. Remember that you cannot effectively support your kid if you do not also take care of yourself.
Let your child know that they can also leave the room whenever they want to, and tip them off to tricks like engaging with the younger kids or the animals in the house to get away from adults who are making them, in any way, feel uncomfortable.
Keep the below GIF handy, and share it with your child, too. Taking a moment to breathe in this rhythm can prove incredibly helpful for you or your child when you need to re-center:
5. Do not make your kid go to Thanksgiving if they do not feel comfortable.
Yes, family and holidays and traditions are all important. Maybe you’ve even gone to Aunt Sally’s house for Thanksgiving every year for the last 20 years, and it’s the only time all year that the whole family is together. I get that those moments of gathering are sacred for many, I do.
However, these are extenuating circumstances. The level of hurt and fear many of us are feeling cannot be emphasized enough. This election only happened two weeks ago; there is still a lot of uncertainty lingering in the air, and emotions and reactions are running high for all involved. If your kid does not feel comfortable, safe, or mentally well enough to spend time with people who will try to deny or belittle their experience, they have every right to stay home or spend the day someplace safer. I urge you to talk to your kid, ask them what they feel comfortable doing, and throw every ounce of respect and support behind their decision. If (and only if) your kid is ok with it, letting your relatives know why they are missing Thanksgiving this year could go a long way in encouraging them to rethink their stance.
If nothing else, please know that there are so many of us feeling anxious and uncertain about the upcoming holidays. Focusing on safety and self-care first and foremost when conflicts arise is an incredible lesson to teach your child; Simply recognizing the tremendous difficulty of the situation at hand is the best way to validate your kid’s feelings and show them that they are not alone in this fight.
Grace is the Senior Managing Editor here at My Kid Is Gay. A graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, she now lives in Portland, Oregon. In her spare time, she can be found reading feminist theory, writing letters, and doing handstands around the world. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger