Is it too early in the year to be talking about family reunions?
The weekend of April 5th-7th, 2013 was indeed a family reunion for me. Family and friends came from literally all over the country to convene for a plentitude of reasons. For some it was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Semi-Annual General Conference. For others it might have been leadership meetings for Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons. In addition, others came for weddings, bridal and baby showers, spring skiing, and other worldwide conferences and events hosted in Salt Lake City, Utah this past weekend. Any way I look at this weekend, I was in the company of my family; family by birth or marriage, or family by choice.
As I attended the various “family reunions” over the weekend, I was filled with love, joy, and happiness. I was energized and strengthened by these bonds. I enjoyed laughter, tears, reminiscent stories, hopes, dreams, and goals with many of my family members. As my daughter (age 3) is introduced to new people, they automatically become family. Every child is her “cousin”. Every adult becomes an “Auntee” or an “Uncle”. This makes me smile from the inside out. My daughter has family reunions every day of her life!
During some of the interactions and conversations I was party to over the weekend, a theme organically emerged. Parents, friends, and family members with LGBTQ loved ones shared the experiences of a silent fight in the quiet chambers of their souls to “do the right thing” by their son, daughter, brother, sister, etc. Even though they are members of a family, a ward, neighborhood, a community, they feel alone and isolated in their feelings. They long for family re-unions.
I appreciate the courage of the parents who voiced their concerns, fears, anger, frustrations, confusion, and insight with me this weekend. I credit them for this post. I hope what follows is not only helpful for you, but for others like you. I applaud these wonderful parents, friends, and family members who are really following the Savior’s example of unconditional love and acceptance. You are heroes and champions to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Your love and commitment does not go unseen, unnoticed, or unfelt. Thank you.
Amidst this silent struggle to “do the right thing”, parents, friends, and family members shared with me a parallel battle within themselves to be validated for what they are doing and have done for their LGBTQ loved ones. Many wrestle with questions like, “Have I said things that have been harmful to my loved one since they came out?”, “Am I treating my LGBTQ son/daughter differently than I do my other children?”. “Am I too permissive with my LGBTQ son/daughter? Too restrictive?”, “I’m worried about my child and some of their new friends and behaviors. I want to keep them safe. How do I do this?”, “Do I let him or her date?”.
First, feelings of worry, doubt, fear, anger, frustration, confusion, and a whole host of other emotions are NORMAL. As parents, friends, and allies, allow yourself to be honest with your feelings and find safe people or places to express your feelings. I have witnessed parents and others doing everything they possibly can to make sure that their LGBTQ loved ones are “okay”. This is wonderful! Please be advised, you must take care of you and your needs in order for you to be available to take care of the needs of your loved one. If you are emotionally bankrupt and still trying to give, sooner rather than later you will find yourself in a very, very difficult situation. Make time for your own counseling, meditation, prayer, time with friends, etc. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, and all good practices that keep you running optimally. Love and care for yourself as much as you do others.
Second, if your LGBTQ loved one is a minor and still living at home, reiterate and/or clearly define the boundaries, guidelines, and expectations for all members of your household. “House Rules” rule, if you will. If curfew is midnight in your home, everyone residing in that home abides by this rule. Certainly, exceptions can be made depending on circumstances. If your LGBTQ loved one is 18 years of age or older, but still living at home, house rules still apply. This suggestion is always met with rolling eyes and a lot of resistance by those I see in my office. I gently remind them that there are many luxuries they are benefitting from by living with their families that would likely not be available if they were on their own. Further, if at any time the house rules become too restrictive, the option to move out and provide for themselves is an option. To some this may sound harsh, but mutual respect between parents and children, regardless of age, is a necessary component to a well-adjusted and smoothly operating home.
If there is a specific rule in your home about when group or solo dating begins, this rule applies to all of your children. This becomes difficult as there are not many opportunities for LGBTQ youth to mix, mingle, socialize, or date other LGBTQ youth in safe settings. However, keep your eyes open, some communities have organizations that create events for LGBTQ teens to mix and mingle. Gay Prom for example, is an excellent event that is fun and safe place for LGBTQ teens to socialize. Arguably, more of these types of events need to be available on a consistent basis. However, every event held or created for LGBTQ teens is one step closer to preventing this young population from risky behaviors and unsafe circumstances.
Strong family bonds and support are critical to the very lives of the LGBTQ people in our circles. I refer you to the research of Dr. Caitlyn Ryan of San Francisco State University and her booklet “Supportive Families, Healthy Children”. You may download a free copy of this booklet here: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/publications. This publication is full of helpful information for families, friends, and allies of LGBTQ loved ones, including ideas for healthy family re-unions (see insert on page 13, “Some Family Behaviors that Reduce Your LGBT Child’s or Foster Child’s Risk for Health & Mental Health Problems & Help Promote Their Well-Being”).
Where there may be fractures in the foundation of family bonds, work to create space for family re-unions. Where strong family bonds exist, have many family re-unions to maintain those bonds. Where there is no family, look around. Reach out. Create families of your choosing. Start your own traditions of family re-unions. To allies, I encourage the same. Look around. Reach out. Add more members to your families and share with them the love that is felt at family reunions.
When is your next family reunion? Here’s to a good one!