With winter break fast approaching, most students will be going back home and spending time with their families. But for some members of the LGBTQ community, the holidays can pose unique challenges, including backlash from their relatives.
On Monday night, Rainbow Pride Union (RPU), SHADES and Keshet, an LGBTQ Jewish organization within Hillel at BU, came together to host a discussion called “Surviving the Holigays,” where members discussed different strategies when dealing with unsupportive family over the break.
Sarah Voegler, director of RPU and a senior majoring in history, said it is important to emotionally prepare students who may be put in uncomfortable or unsafe situations.
“This is very important because it helps prepare students in the queer community to go home for winter break,” Voegler said. “Especially for queer students, you can feel unsafe around conservative families. It’s good to have meetings like this where you can prepare students and give them tips and tricks on how best to protect themselves mentally in those situations.”
Voegler said students who may find themselves in difficult situations should plan exit strategies in advance, which can include having a friend to call, finding supportive family members to help defuse problematic conversations or walking a pet to get out of the house for a few minutes.
Samantha Wiatrak, a junior majoring in psychology, said she thought it would be helpful to have a friend call her as a strategy to get out of certain discussions.
“With your friends, you have a constant and known ally with you at all times,” Wiatrak said. “Even if they can’t be there with you, you can ask them to be on standby and call you to get out of anything, whether it be a dinner or conversation with one other person.”
According to Voegler, while students can rely on other people to help, it’s also important to be independent and learn other coping mechanisms.
“Personally, I would write little notes to myself before I go into the situation to help me get through it,” Voegler said. “I can look back on them when I’m stressed and remind myself that the situation is temporary and soon I’ll be back with people that support me.”
Some of the discussion also centered on how to handle situations involving students who are not out to their families. Voegler said students don’t owe it to anyone to come out of the closet. However, if a student feels safe enough, Voegler said a student might consider confronting a family member about their beliefs.
“Taking care of your mental health should be your biggest priority, even if you have to say ‘no’ to doing something with a family member or even confront someone,” Voegler said. “Feel empowered to do so because you need to, but do everything on your own terms.”
Jacob Aaronson, co-director of Keshet and a sophomore majoring in computer engineering, said discussions like these, especially ahead of the holidays, are important for students.
“A lot of people have a lot of problems going home for the holidays, dealing with family members who may not be so accepting or with a lot of people who don’t really understand and are so far away from conventional safe spaces,” Aaronson said. “It’s good to have a lot of tips and strategies to deal with that stressful time.”