The difference between tolerating and embracing your LGBTQ family, and why it matters
I remember the first time I successfully came out to someone in my family. I say “successfully” because the first time didn’t really seem to stick, so to this day, I don’t consider it my coming out. The second time, I was sitting at my aunt’s kitchen island while she puttered around doing household chores. The details of exactly what I said are a little fuzzy, probably because I was so worried it wouldn’t go well. But from the very beginning of our conversation, it was clear that my aunt accepted me. After all, it was her own advice that had spurred me to come out again: “We only get one life, so in the end, all you can do is what’s best for you.”
After we talked, my aunt gave me a hug, and I remember tearing up a little. Not because I was relieved, though that was definitely true, but because I was surprised at how uplifting it felt to tell the truth to someone who didn’t instruct me to hide it.
There is a huge difference between tolerating something and truly embracing it. For me, and for many of the LGBTQ community, it can often be the difference between “not being kicked out of the house” and feeling comfortable enough to bring your significant other home to meet your parents. The month of June has become synonymous with Pride parades; rainbows are temporarily covering every advertisement and company logo I see. Don’t get me wrong—I love the fact that Pride is gaining traction in mainstream media, but it’s also made me consider that, for many, the month of June is a temporary safe space. It shrinks as soon as the Pride flags are put away, until next year.
Growing up, I was surrounded by so many narratives that revolved around LGBTQ people being kicked out of their homes. Asking about their living situation was my immediate follow-up question if I heard a friend came out to their families. Statistics have proven time and time again that LGBTQ kids make up the majority of homeless teens, so it became a relief to me when someone wasn’t disowned.
But we do a disservice to the LGBTQ community by setting the bar so low. We shouldn’t be “lucky” just for having a roof over our heads.
There is a large gap between not getting disowned and being accepted wholeheartedly for who you are.
Though it sometimes may seem that the world is more accepting, there are still constant attacks on LGBTQ rights and people. There are still states that allow forced conversion therapy, and there are still countries where queerness is illegal. There are plenty of people who simply say, “I don’t have a problem with LGBTQ people. I just don’t approve of their lifestyle.” Even this basic form of non-acceptance can have devastating effects when people hear it from their loved ones. It is always problematic when people’s very existence is up for debate. What we really need to strive for is total acceptance and support, whether it’s from family, friends, or external resources and programs in the community.
So continue checking in on your LGBTQ friends and family once June is over. And even if their families or communities aren’t actively homophobic, that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with microaggressions every single day—especially those who are multiply marginalized. Education is important, too. If you find that you don’t fully understand the labels, pronouns, or terms that your friends and family would like you to use, than look it up or ask. Donate to local LGBTQ programs and nonprofits in the area. If you don’t have the means to do that, then volunteer or spread the word. It is vital to show those around you that you stand with them—and not just by attending Pride parades.
Thankfully, we’ve gotten to a place where these kinds of queer celebrations are common. With more than half of Generation Z identifying somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, we are moving toward a more accepting future. But it’s still our job to step up our game in terms of acceptance, so that eventually “coming out” is no longer necessary. While I am thankful that my aunt accepted me without hesitation, I hope future generations won’t have to even wonder if they’ll be met with acceptance after speaking their truth.