Unsafe for the holidays
While countless students at Grand Valley State University are looking forward to holiday break and time with family away from school, many students who identify within the LGBT community are hesitant to return to their childhood home.
For students who identify in the community, the holiday season often presents a plethora of issues in regards to returning to their hometowns and spending time with their families.
“One issue that might come up for people is safety,” said Jae Basiliere, professor in the women, gender and sexuality studies department. "Just because someone has been able to be open and out with their family doesn’t necessarily mean their family is accepting.
"There can be safety concerns for people going back into environments that maybe aren’t as accepting as what they’ve experienced here.”
Moreover, Basiliere said students who are not out to their families may run into various emotional obstacles.
“Some people don’t feel like they are able to be open about their identities with their families, so going back home to a place where they have to hide part of themselves after they were able to be more open with others can be really traumatic,” Basiliere said. “That can absolutely have long-term emotional consequences.”
Marla Wick, assistant director of the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, said it is important for those in the LGBT community and allies to make the holiday season easier for one another.
“I think it's important to recognize that many people are feeling scared and alone right now," Wick said. "Reach out to your community. Check in with people, welcome new people who are looking for community and connection into spaces where you feel safe."
“This holiday season more than ever, many of us are going to find ourselves in situations and home environments where people are going to say things that we know are wrong,” Basiliere said. “Whether it’s someone saying something racist or homophobic, the ally (should) intervene in that conversation and direct people to why that’s not right.”
Self-care can reduce risks for students who don’t have access to other members of the LGBT community while away from GVSU.
“Self-care is so important, particularly during hard times,” Wick said. “That might mean taking along books or other kinds of media that ground them in their sense of who they are, eating well, exercising or treating themselves to hot baths.”
“(Self-care) is important for a lot of different reasons over the holidays, but especially for LGBT folks who may be dealing with identity issues,” Basiliere said. “Really making time to take care of yourself, whatever that looks like.”
Officials in the center said visibility and validation for people in the LGBT community is a vital factor in students feeling safe and comfortable during the holidays.
“It's important to stay connected to the community that does support and affirm their identities. Schedule Skype dates, text or Snapchat,” Wick said. “There are so many ways now to connect with people. If you start to feel isolated, reach out.”
For students who are struggling with returning home during break, GVSU offers many on-campus resources. Students can visit the LBGT Resource Center, Women’s Center or University Counseling Center for more information.