Tips for Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth This Holiday Season
Holidays can be a particularly hard time for LGBTQ+ young people. While many young people head home for the winter holidays, too many LGBTQ+ youth cannot return to their families of origin. They might not be invited; they might face physical or sexual harm if they participate; they might not be “out” to their families; or they might not want to face the discomfort and confusion their relatives will express about their identities.
Here are some ideas for making the holidays more supportive.
If an LGBTQ+ youth is a family member
Check in with them before the holidays.
Reach out directly to the young person before any gathering. Ask them about their feelings around visits with family. See if there is anything you can do to make sure they feel welcomed and supported.
If they now use a different name or pronoun than the ones assigned at birth, ask if they would like you to correct people if someone uses the incorrect name/pronoun. If they are not “out” to the whole family, ask what name and pronoun they’d like you to use. Do not “out” them! Also, avoid insinuating that you know something that other family members do not. Even subtle mentions can cause problems for the young person.
Respect their decision about participation.
If the young person is hesitant about coming to a family gathering, avoid pressuring them to attend. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them feel comfortable attending — and respect their choices. If they choose not to participate in the group celebrations, find a time to connect with them individually around the holidays. Send a package and/or celebrate together over zoom or meet without the rest of the family.
If they do come to a gathering, respect their time alone. Holidays are overwhelming for most people. LGBTQ+ youth, in particular, might need more time to decompress, check in with their friends, and stay connected to their outside support network.
Let them speak for themselves.
They are the experts of their own identity. They also are NOT the expert on all LGBTQ+ content. Bringing up LGBTQ+ topics, in an attempt to include them, can put them in an uncomfortable or unsafe position.
If a conversation about LGBTQ+ issues is making the youth uncomfortable or the questions are inappropriate, ask if they want you to jump into the discussion. Then answer any broad questions as best as you can and steer the conversation away from LGBTQ+ topics. Take the attention off the youth.
Purchase and encourage gender-neutral gifts.
If you don’t know about their interests, shy away from gifts that are targeted at specific genders. It is shocking how much gifting is affected by gender perspectives! When considering a gift, ask yourself if someone of any gender would appreciate and use it, or if it is geared specifically towards girls or boys. Gift certificates, food, and experiences are better gender-neutral choices.
Intervene if questions are prying or comments are offensive.
If something in an interaction is making you uncomfortable, it is probably making the young person uncomfortable. If the question is not appropriate to ask a straight youth, it’s probably not a good one for LGBTQ+ youth.
It can be challenging and uncomfortable to stand up to family members. You might need to be prepared for an escalated discussion. If you are not an LGBTQ+ youth, you are in a stronger, safer position to speak up at the table than the queer young person. Intervening on the youth’s behalf is the most helpful thing you can do to protect the LGBTQ+ youth.
Consider these statements — “That is not an appropriate question, let’s talk about —– instead.” “From what I have learned, a more appropriate word would be….” “I wouldn’t feel comfortable being asked that question, so let’s not ask our family member.” “That is not an ok thing to say.”
If these statements cannot shift the focus away from the youth and you need to set limits, consider, “If you keep bringing that up, I am going to leave/ask you to leave.”
Check in with the young person after the experience — in person, by email, or by text message. Ask how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to help them process the experience. See if there is something you could have done differently or better. Focus on their feelings, not yours.
Supporting LGBTQ+ youth more generally
Share resources on social media and in your social network about OUT Maine’s youth groups, the Trevor Project and the Trans LIfeLIne.
OUT Maine is Maine’s only organization that focuses exclusively on LGBTQ+ youth. It has age-appropriate, virtual youth groups running weekly and continuing throughout the holiday season (outmaine.org). The Trevor Project is a national organization that provides 24/7 crisis support, social spaces, research, and education to and about LGBTQ+ youth. The Trans Life Line is a peer-support crisis line by and for transgender people.
Reach out directly to LGBTQ+ youth you know.
Check in with them about how they are doing. Mention that you know that the holidays can be rough. Ask if they are going home to family and how that might feel for them. Provide a listening ear and steer clear of trying to fix anything. Avoid pressuring them to go home if they are hesitant. They are the experts on their home experience.
Donate gifts and funds to youth shelters.
Sadly, 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+; many are homeless due to family rejection. OUT Maine posits Maine’s statistics are higher, as rural youth tend to avoid the homeless youth count. Maine’s youth shelters are: New Beginnings (Lewiston); Preble Street Teen Shelter (Portland); and The Shaw House (Bangor). The Landing Place (Rockland) provides services and support to at-risk youth in the midcoast area, but does not provide emergency sheltering options at this time.