With just about two weeks until Thanksgiving, people are gearing up for holiday cooking, shopping, and, of course, visits with family. And while the “visits with family” can create anxiety for many people, for our LGBTQ friends and family, the anxiety jump is often significant. Whether people are not yet out, out but not accepted by family or friends, or concerned about how family may react to meeting a partner or spouse, the “what if” scenario can be stressful.
And while there are countless great articles about how LGBTQ+ people can better handle holiday stress and conflict, there isn’t a lot out there about how allies can be part of creating a supportive and inclusive space for their friends at this time of year.
As the largest ally organization in the U.S., we've got some great tips to try out and share for being a great ally to your LGBTQ+ friends at the holidays!
- Listen to your friends. Seems obvious, right? But listening – without commenting right away – is a big skill to learn. Often, LGBTQ people who are experiencing anxiety about holiday visits just need someone who will listen to how they’re feeling, center their LGBTQ+ friends' needs, and not minimize those experiences (e.g., “It can’t be that bad, can it?”). Close your mouth, open your ears, and take it all in.
- When people are ready to talk, help them focus on the present. When anyone has a bad experience, it’s natural to go back to that time and expect that it will determine what will happen in the future. This can sometimes cause what's called a "self-fulfilling prophecy" - meaning, by trying to avoid something that happened in the past we end up creating the exact situation we're hoping to avoid. But this is not always the case. Sometimes, people change. Situations are different. Try to help your LGBTQ+ friend look at how they can prepare themselves for this experience, and not dwell exclusively in the past.
- Remind people to take care of themselves. Pulling away from friends, not eating well, or even self-medicating are all common responses when people are under stress. Check in to find out how they’re doing, ask about what they’ve been up to, and if you’re seeing the signs that someone is not caring for themselves, make some suggestions about how they can. Even better, offer to be part of their self-care plans. ("Want to go to the gym with me?" "How about coming over for a good healthy dinner?").
- Be willing to serve as the ally-on-call. Before your LGBTQ+ loved one heads out for the holidays, remind them that you’re there and happy to talk/text/IM if they need you. Letting people know that it’s ok to ask for help is important.
- Extend an invitation. Some LGBTQ+ people don’t have an option to be with their families of origin, but you can be part of their chosen family. Ask them to join you for holiday celebrations. And when they attend, don’t make their personal story (e.g., “Janet is here because her family threw her out.”) part of what you share with other guests. They’re just a friend who is coming over to share a holiday meal.
- Change the way you ask questions. Rather than asking LGBTQ" friends if they’re going home for the holidays, or spending the holidays with family – which may make them feel forced to explain tough situations – ask open-ended questions like, “So do you have any plans for the holidays?”
Looking for more ways to demonstrate your allyship year-round? Don’t forget to check out straightforequality.org for additional ideas and resources.