November 27, 2013

“I have been with my fiancé for two years, and with the holidays coming up I would like to introduce him to my family. Every time I bring it up to my parents, they both say that he will not be welcome in their house because we are a gay couple. When I am there visiting, I am not allowed to talk about him at all. I’m torn because he is one of the most important people in my life, and I love my family deeply. My mother says that the rest of my family does not approve of my lifestyle and I should stop bringing it up, but when I talk to other members of my family they are supportive of me, my relationship, and gay people in general. What should I do?”

It’s sad that gay people still have to choose between their relationships and their families, especially around the holidays, but sometimes our families force that choice on us. My question for you is, “who would you rather spend the holidays with?” On one hand you have the man who says he loves all of you and is willing to spend the rest of his life with you, on the other hand you have your family, specifically your mother, who loves most of you and doesn’t want to talk about or confront the part of you they don’t love.

It’s a hard thing to do, but my suggestion would be to force your family to confront the part of you they don’t love. If you are serious about your fiancé, and plan to marry and spend the rest of your life with him, your family will have to get used to it or they will have to lose you. Families are supposed to love us unconditionally, and without reservations. If your biological family is not offering you that consideration but your chosen family is, the choice is easy. It’s hard to let go of something that we’ve held so dear for so long, but if it is causing us pain or causing our partners pain then letting go may be the best thing for everyone.

The rest of your family may surprise you, and rally behind you to support you. They may be waiting for the right time to confront the bigoted side of your family, and you could be the catalyst for that confrontation. If members of your family truly love and support you, they may just be waiting for an opportunity to show that love and support to the rest of your family that doesn’t. I suggest you make the first move. Tell your supportive family members that you cannot see them for the holidays, because your bigoted family members don’t want you and your partner around. Name names to the supportive family members, so they know who to blame for your absence from their lives. Encourage them to tell their children who it was that made you feel unwelcome. Nothing is more heartbreaking than a 6-year-old niece walking up to your mother and saying, “Why don’t you want Uncle Kenneth home for Christmas?”*

Your family has been able to cling to their bigoted ideas and behaviors because you are willing to let them. You have accommodated their behavior and so it is not difficult for them to continue that behavior. If you make it hard on them, they will start to rethink their position. But as long as you go back into the closet to spare their feelings, they will never respect your feelings. This happened to me. I refused to hide my relationship from my family, even though I knew it made certain members of my family uncomfortable. Earlier this year, one of those certain family member said this to me in regards to a question I asked him about a public figure: “Off the top of my head … if he’s for gay marriage […] I’m in.” The only reason this family member would ever base his voting decisions on a public figure’s stance on gay rights is because of his exposure to me and my husband.

Harvey Milk once said: “Gay brothers and sisters,… You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.” He took a bullet to the head because he believed that forcing people to confront their bigotry could change the world.

All I’m asking you to do is miss a couple holidays with your family. If your mom and the rest of the bigots in your family truly love you, they will learn to accept you and your fiancé in their lives. They will see how important he is to you and your future, and they will stop the conditional love. They will stop hurting you with their words, and with their votes, and they will support you. But as long as you allow their bigotry to continue, it will. Stand up for yourself and all of your gay brothers and sisters.

Remember, the Minnesota Marriage Amendment failed because opponents, straight and gay, went door to door and told their neighbors the story of how the amendment hurt them and their families. The New York marriage equality bill gained a supporter when a law-maker’s lesbian niece threatened to disown his whole family unless he voted in favor. Martin Luther King Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Right there, in your mother’s living room during the holidays, injustice is occurring. How much longer do you want to support that threat to justice everywhere?

*Disclaimer: While I used my own name in this column, it was done solely to protect the anonymity of the question writer. No one in my family has ever attempted to bar my partner from attending a family function, especially around the holidays, and I do not wish to imply that they have. I am grateful for my loving a supporting family who has been there for me ever since I came out of the closet 16 years ago.

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