November 13, 2019

About 4.5% of Americans identify as LGBTQ+ -- meaning more than 11 million people in the country, and being accepted and affirmed (or not) plays a big role in their well-being. This all really comes into play at holiday time, or any time and LGBTQ+ person might be headed home.

While for some LGBTQ+ people holidays mean celebration, joy, family, and togetherness, for others it can mean a time of stress, difficulty, and even sadness or depression...especially if one feels that they aren’t able to come out or are not out to everyone in the family. No matter what, PFLAG National is here to help provide you support and information for the holidays, or any time of year that folks are headed home.

Sitting through a family meal, or visiting through an entire weekend or week, can be challenging enough, but what happens if you are not yet our or in a position to be out as you make your way through the meal or the week?

Below are some suggestions--both for people who are LGBTQ+ and for families and allies--for getting through family gatherings. And remember: if you need immediate support, you can find a PFLAG chapter here, reach out to us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or TikTok, or call a helpline for crisis support.

If you are LGBTQ+...

  • Don’t assume you know how somebody will react to news of your sexual orientation or gender identity--you may be surprised.
  • Don’t wait for your family’s attitude to change to have a special holiday or visit. Recognize that your parents and family may need time to acknowledge and accept that they have an LGBTQ+ family member. It took you time to come to terms with who you are; now it is your family’s turn. But...
  • Don't cause yourself undue emotional, psychological, or physical harm while you wait for your family to catch up. Put them in contact with PFLAG and, if need be, spend time with your chosen family while other family works to catch up.
  • If you are transgender, be gentle but firm with unintentional pronoun or other “slips.” Let your loved ones know that you understand how difficult this journey may be for them—but don't hesitate to remind them when it happens how hard it is for you to hear.

Before the visit...

  • Make a decision about which family members you intend to be “out” to, and how you will do so.
  • If you bring your partner home, don’t wait until late into the holiday evening to raise the issue of sleeping arrangements. Make plans in advance.
  • If you do plan to come out to your family over the holidays, have support available, including PFLAG publications and the phone number of a local PFLAG chapter.

During the visit...

  • Reassure family members that you are still the same person they have always known.
  • Remember to affirm yourself and take time for self-care: read a book, listen to music, get out of the house and take a walk or see friends, whatever de-stresses you.
  • Connect with someone else who is LGBTQ--by phone or in person--who understands what you are going through and will affirm you along the way.

After the visit...

  • If things went well with your family, be sure to follow up with them post-holiday to check in, see if they have any questions, and thank them for their love and support.
  • If things did not go as well as you had anticipated, be sure to contact your local support system, whether that be close friends, or members from your local PFLAG chapter. Reconnect quickly with those who love and affirm you as you are, and give yourself an opportunity to discuss and process the family event.

If you are the family member of someone who is LGBTQ+...

  • Get support for yourself. Find the nearest PFLAG chapter.
  • Take your time. Acceptance may not come instantly, but be honest about your feelings in an appropriate place. This is why PFLAG is so crucial - you can demonstrate support and love of your newly out LGBTQ+ loved one, and then work through any challenging emotions in a separate space with peers.

Before the visit…

  • Check out this learning session from PFLAG Academy Online, available on demand, any time: When Someone Comes Out: A PFLAGers Guide to Demonstrating Support and Acceptance.
  • Practice in advance if you are going to be discussing your loved ones sexual orientation or gender identity with family and friends. If you are comfortable talking about it, your family and friends will probably be more comfortable too.
  • Before your family member arrives home, read one of PFLAG National's helpful publications, available to download for free, any time.
  • If your loved one is transgender, nonbinary, or gender expansive, practice using correct pronouns and new names!

During the visit…

  • Treat an LGBTQ+ person as you would treat anyone else in your family.
  • Don’t ask your LGBTQ+ family member to act a certain way. Let them be themselves.
  • If your LGBTQ+ family member is bringing a partner, include them in your family traditions.
  • If you are uncertain about how to address an LGBTQ+ family member, respectfully ask in private.
  • Everyone makes mistakes! Acknowledge the error, apologize (and really own the mistake), and then make a concerted effort to do better.

After the visit...

  • If things went well with your LGBTQ+ loved one, be sure to check in with them post-holiday, see if they have any questions, and tell them how glad you were that they could be with you, authentically.
  • If things did not go as well as you had anticipated, be sure to contact your local PFLAG chapter, and give yourself a moment to connect with those who will understand the challenges, and support you as you work toward reconnecting with your LGBTQ+ loved ones.
  • Do not let too much time go by before contacting your LGBTQ+ loved one, and let them know that you are committed to trying again. Connection is key!
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