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Aired Nov 25, 2015

S4E: Allies and the Holidays

Holiday time can be incredible–seeing family and friends, parties, gift exchanges. At the same time, they can be stressful when we find ourselves sharing space with people whose opinions on LGBT equality are…well, not exactly where we’d hope they’d be.
When this happens, some shy away from talking about LGBTQ issues altogether. Others may find themselves getting angry…or even confrontational.
Jamie Henkel, PFLAG National’s Learning & Inclusion Manager, shared her own story to illustrate how true this can be:
“I have an uncle that I only see around the holidays or at weddings and funerals. Every time I see him he asks me if I still work for ‘that homosexual activist organization’ which really bothers me. Even though I live and breathe my allyship at PFLAG, when it comes to him, I mostly just let it slide. I don’t want to disrupt the holidays for everyone else. But last year on Thanksgiving I sort of went off and caused a scene after he made some really disparaging comments about Michael Sam. We didn’t speak for the rest of the visit.”
Find yourself relating to the story?
Lots of us do. But Jamie’s situation didn’t have to turn into a confrontation. Instead of shutting down year after year and not saying anything at all about how her uncle’s language upset her, she could have changed the way she approached that language slip up to create a learning experience. If you find that, like Jamie, you feel like backing down (or like those claws are coming out) why not try changing up your strategy a bit?
  • Take a deep breath: If you’re extremely upset step back and give yourself a moment to calm down. Imagine your happy place. Go grab an awesomely decorated cookie or freshen up your wine. But commit to making your way back and having the conversation, one on one.
  • Assume nothing: For example, Jamie’s uncle may not have realized that his language was bothering her, that his remarks about Sam were so hurtful, or may even have thought he would get a good laugh. Let people know why what they said bothered you and give people room to explain.
  • Address the behavior: Be sure to explain what you’re referring to—and then keep the conversation about that specific behavior. Calling someone a bigot or a homophobe may not have been exceptionally helpful but talking through the language they was using may lead them to think more about his behavior in the future.  
  • Listen, offer support, and say thank you: Listen to the other person to hear what they’ve got to say. Let them know that you’re a resource if they ever want to talk. And remember, you’ve just done something big, and engaged someone else in the process. No matter how it goes, thank people for their time.
So this holiday season, whether you and your family are celebrating Hanukah, Christmas, Milad un Nabi, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or all (or none) of the above, be sure to be out and open about your commitment to LGBTQ equality. Check out resources such as new edition of guide to being a straight ally and guide to being a trans ally to develop your ally skills or give you new tools to help empower new allies–even in your complicated family.  And remember that you can always connect with the team at Straight for Equality if you have questions or are looking for ideas on how to create conversations–just send an email to [email protected].
Happy holidays!