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The holidays can be especially stressful for the LGBTQ+ community

Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News

The holidays are a stressful time for almost everyone, from balancing finances to making the time for family and friends. But, for people who don’t have a supportive home to return to for those few weeks in November and December, it can be not only stressful, but an incredibly sad and traumatic time of year.

For many people in the LGBTQ+ community, going home for the holidays can be a source of stress and dread. According to the National Network for Youth, LGBTQ+ individuals have a 120%-higher risk of experiencing some form of homelessness, with family conflict being a primary cause.

Families that don’t accept their queer family members and divisive politics can make the holidays a less-than-joyful time of year.

Rachel Smith is the owner of the Sassy Vegan in Fort Wayne. She helped found Queermas: A Holi-gay Market and, notably, she doesn’t go home to her parents for Christmas.

Smith grew up in a very right-wing, evangelical Christian household. And, she said, that came with a very homophobic viewpoint and parents who wanted to control every aspect of her life and her expression.

At 22, she was able to move out.

“So, I didn’t even realize I was queer until adulthood because I wasn’t able to explore that part of my life,” she said.

When Smith moved out and began to understand herself better, she didn’t immediately go no-contact with her parents, but little things built up over the years.

“‘ 'Cause I did try to keep them in my life, but they weren’t willing to adhere to my boundaries, so I had to make the difficult decision to cut contact because they’re just not safe people for me,” Smith said.

She tried to set boundaries with her parents on topics like politics and religion, because she knew they wouldn’t all see eye-to-eye and wanted to avoid an argument.

“They would always find a way to bring it up, even though I wouldn’t talk about it," she said. "So, that was just kind of like a little push on the boundaries. So, for me, it wasn’t like there was one big thing that happened and I was like ‘okay absolutely not,’ for me it was a lot of little things.”

The decision wasn’t easy and holding to it is hard every year, Smith said.

“The holidays are really hard because everybody is like ‘Oh, what are you doing? You’re gonna go see your family.’ And you’re like no, I can’t.”

Now, her holiday consists of a small gathering with her husband, their cats and close friends. But Smith said it’s also important for her to take time for herself, as well.

“Because even though I know that I chose what’s right for me, it doesn’t take away the pain, it doesn’t take away the fact that it hurts that I don’t have a normal family that I can go home to. So, I try to do a little bit of self care and take care of myself around the holidays, too.”

Mainline Health published a ‘LGBTQ Holiday Resource Guide,’ which includes caring for yourself as the number one tip for getting through the holidays. It also suggests having an exit strategy to be able to leave unexpectedly if a situation or environment becomes too unsafe or overwhelming.

In addition to spending time with her chosen family, Smith works to help others around her who have similar family situations.

Annie works with Smith.

They’re nonbinary and autistic and still currently live with their parents, but that doesn’t make the holidays easy. Despite that they can agree with their parents on many aspects, there are certain opinions they hold that they can’t share around their parents.

They said building a community outside of their home has allowed them to express themselves, including their autistic side, more than they can around their parents.

“I’ve become really close with Rachel and her husband and they’ve allowed me to express myself, like my autistic side, a lot more than I can around my parents,” Annie said.

Annie spent Thanksgiving with Smith and her husband.

“And that was a very nice shift from sitting around talking about politics with other people and instead I was able to just be goofy and fully embrace who I was," they said. "And that was a nice change of pace.”

Annie still had Thanksgiving with their family and they expect they’ll do the same for Christmas, spending part of the day with their parents and then the evening with Smith and her husband.

“I know with Rachel that it’s just gonna be basically like any other day that I hang out with her, just goofing around.”

Despite the pain of celebrating the holidays without her family, Smith doesn’t regret the choice.

“Is it worth going through all of the turmoil and the judgment and just my mental health deteriorating just to be home for the holidays? Like, is that really worthwhile?”

For Smith, the answer is a resounding no.

“I’m choosing me and I’m going to choose what is best for me, even if other people don’t understand it.”

For anyone struggling with returning home for the holidays due to family expectations or a lack of support, experts repeatedly suggest setting aside time for yourself and setting boundaries with loved ones.

The Trevor Project offers support for people struggling during the holidays, including a guide to self-care.

Ella Abbott is a multimedia reporter for 89.1 WBOI. She is a strong believer in the ways audio storytelling can engage an audience and create a sensory experience.