The holidays are difficult in general for many people but are even more devastating for the LGBTQ community. We are encouraged to go home and spend time with our families. However, many in the LGBTQ community suffer anxiety and loneliness due to ostracization by their families. As I think of my friends who are not welcomed home, I flash back to one of the loneliest holidays I’ve ever experienced: Thanksgiving 2001. I will never forget that day because of the rejection and isolation it brought me.
The circumstances leading up to the holiday were challenging, but I never anticipated what it would become. My partner at the time had been diagnosed with cancer. We clung to each other with every ounce of faith as our lives were turned upside down. She decided to share her diagnosis and her sexual identity with her parents, simultaneously. I thought that that was too much for her parents to process at one time. But she went ahead and told them.
Initially, her parents had expressed gratitude for my presence in their daughter’s life because they assumed, I was a platonic friend. Her mother told her to tell me that they loved and appreciated me for taking care of her when they could not. They lived in another state and would not be able to travel until her surgery.
Everything changed when she divulged the true nature of our relationship.
Once my girlfriend recuperated from surgery, we made plans to visit her parents for Thanksgiving. I was shocked when she told me that her parents didn’t know she was bringing me home for the holiday.
I said, “Babe… you didn’t ask them?”
She said, “They know you’re my girlfriend.”
“But that doesn’t mean they accept it,” I replied.
I tried to calm my nerves. Surely, they would welcome me with open arms, especially after I had devotedly taken care of their sick daughter, I thought.
I’ll never forget the discomfort I felt upon our arrival in town. We had rented a condo nearby for the occasion. I sensed my partner’s energy change as she spoke to her mother over the phone to tell her we had arrived. She could barely look at me as she hung up. She said her mother did not feel comfortable with me coming to dinner.
I was devastated. Dinner? This was not just dinner. This was Thanksgiving, the one holiday of the year when we share our blessings with those we love. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs: Who was by your daughter’s side when she received her diagnosis? Who held her as she cried herself to sleep each night? Who held her hair back as she vomited endlessly from the chemo? Who shaved their head to make her feel she was not alone in this battle? ME…!
I am always shocked by the hypocrisy of so-called Christians who judge others by manipulating Bible scripture to fit their intolerant beliefs. My mind demanded to know, how could you not accept someone who loved your child in sickness?
I wept as I sat alone in a darkened room on Thanksgiving, while my girlfriend was surrounded by her family. Even in my sadness, I thought of how blessed I was to have a family that loves me unconditionally. I am blessed to have parents who welcome and love whomever I choose to love. I realize not everyone is that fortunate.
During this holiday season, I pray for my friends who are not welcomed home for the holidays because of whom they choose to love. I pray that they surround themselves with friends and chosen family who love them unconditionally. I can’t help but think of the late Nina Simone’s words of wisdom from You’ve Got to Learn: “You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.” I’ve come to believe that family is not always blood. Home is where the heart is.