There are many reasons that LGBTQ people re-name Thanksgiving. Our celebrations of Friendsgiving highlight the critical importance of Friends as Family in LGBTQ worlds. Access to the institution of marriage really hasn’t changed this for most of us in our 40s and older, for we grew up in an era where parental rejection was more likely than not, our partners banned from celebrations in the homes we grew up in; the love and support of friends, ex-lovers, sweethearts, and claimed spouses was critical to our survival. Since my early 20s, the majority of my holiday celebrations have been extravagant potlucks with LGBTQ extended family — including the occasional rejected “black sheep” hetero or cis beloved — loading up the dining table with treasured dishes from our childhoods.
Many of us, too, have rejected the traditional framework of Thanksgiving, seeing it instead as a feast meant to erase the well-documented violence of white settlers on Native people at early contact, which eventually led to genocidal Westward expansion. It’s not that big a leap for people who have been exiled from their family traditions to feel solidarity for people displaced from their sacred lands.
Often, when we gather with our friends, we work to blot out the memories of extremely painful Thanksgiving meals before or during the era of our coming-out process. Many of us in the Boomer generation sat silently for years, while conversation around the table conflated pedophilia with LGBTQ love and life. Or a racist and sexist drunken uncle went on and on about various imagined “perverts”, “freeloaders” and “sluts.” Being in the closet is an infantilizing and draining experience inside of large family gatherings, while the just-post-coming-out years are often filled with terrifying silences, as family fail to ask us a single question about our lives for fear of stumbling into a queer line of conversation they can’t escape. (Release the Kraken!)
I spent post-Thanksgiving meals during my closeted era in various gay bars in and around Boston, drinking with my fellow rejects and self-described cowards, having ingested foods we love with truly hateful lines of conversation we felt helpless to confront. Challenging a racist drunken uncle or a sexist parent always put us perilously close to the edge of outing ourselves in our families.
As the fairly new Executive Director of PFLAG National, I feel so much gratitude for our 400 chapter leaders and thousands of volunteers who are creating vastly different traditions from those that I survived in the 70s. Theirs are holidays that center the light, laughter and joy of family acceptance alongside their favorite foods. In the current era, many LGBTQ kids are coming out at younger and younger ages. Within the PFLAG network, they are doing so among parents who have done their homework to create environments where their children don’t have to abandon themselves to join family for a meal or dress for school. Instead, these kids are being supported to grow into their authentic selves, and to thrive.
At PFLAG, we have a lot to be thankful for. On any given day, when the rhetoric from the top, or practices at our local youth centers, schools, or sports teams are making it difficult for our kids to imagine a promising future, we can rely on the experience of 45 years of LGBTQ-affirming parents and allies and the sea changes we have created in school policies, workplace environments, and parenting values. We know how powerful the love of family, friends and allies are in the struggle for self-love, justice, and equality. And today, like every day, we are ready to apply the power of love to the many challenges ahead of us. Not passive love. Not lip-service love. PFLAG love. #PflagThankful