Chosen Family Matters More Than Ever for LGBTQ+ Youth This Holiday Season | Opinion

There is the family you're born into and the family you choose. If you are lucky, the two are synonymous. But for many, especially LGBTQ+ youth, luck runs short on the "born into" front.

Four out of ten youth say they live in a community that is not accepting of LGBTQ+ people—facing bullying and/or family rejection. Parents, guardians, or other relatives struggle to reconcile their belief systems with a family member's queer identity, which can lead to an all-to-common occurrence of LGBTQ+ young people running away or getting kicked out of their home. Particularly during the holidays, this makes the family a young queer person chooses that much more important, especially after spending nearly two years in a global pandemic that potentially isolated LGBTQ+ youth from school resources, accepting peers and welcoming environments.

At the It Gets Better Project, we cultivate a growing chosen family of youth ambassadors that empower and lift up one another. Our Youth Voices program is fueled by 13 self-actualized and incredibly diverse queer teens from across the U.S. who have formed a bond through their desire to create a better world for their LGBTQ+ peers. We look to them for their valuable input and perspectives on a variety of topics—in this case, advice for adults looking to support queer youth this holiday season.

Some of these recommendations may seem obvious, some might surprise you, but here are meaningful steps allied adults can take to create a more welcoming space for queer youth.

—Don't assume. LGBTQ+ youth who are struggling at home won't necessarily volunteer that information. Offer an open invitation to join a family gathering, and if you have children or teens who have LGBTQ+ friends, have them extend the invitation too. Make it clear you have an open-door policy and that there is always room for one more—no questions asked.

A person gets a rainbow heart stencil
A person gets a rainbow heart stencil. Max Whittaker/Getty Images

—Welcome LGBTQ+ youth into your home like you would anyone else. Queer youth aren't looking to be compartmentalized or treated as different. They just want to belong, to be loved and affirmed—not thrust into a "we have a special guest tonight" spotlight. The dinner table isn't the place to interview a queer guest about their coming out experience or political perspectives. Let them enjoy their meal and contribute to a conversation that doesn't place the focus on their identity. That goes for rules too. If cell phones are forbidden at the dinner table, make it a blanket rule. Nothing makes someone feel "othered" faster than getting sympathy treatment.

Use chosen names and pronouns. For transgender and gender non-confirming kids, using their chosen name and pronouns may not be an option at home. Showing them the respect of using their chosen name and pronouns will mean the world to them. We know pronouns can get a bit confusing, so if you make a mistake, don't make a huge deal about it. Acknowledging the mistake and correcting yourself is more than enough.

—Don't underestimate your importance and influence as an adult. LGBTQ+ kids are still kids. Yes, they need support from people their own age, but they also look to adults for love and acceptance. Studies show LGBTQ+ youth who have at least one supportive adult in their lives see a marked improvement in their overall mental well-being. You can make a positive impact just by being a kind and affirming adult for the day.

—Don't let this be a one and done situation. Part of being a good ally is not limiting your allyship to special occasions. Take every opportunity to let a young queer person know that you are there to support their journey, even if that only means having a place for them to escape to for a couple hours. And, if you have the means, volunteer or support causes like the It Gets Better Project or one of these other organizations that advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth.

While there are shared disparities many LGBTQ+ youth face, they aren't defined by their sexual orientation and gender identity alone. Young queer people are smart, funny, creative—they bring a heightened sensitivity to the world that can enlighten even the most accomplished of us. These are the people we should all want in our lives.

Support from others can be as simple as validating a LGBTQ+ youth's innate value as a human being. An ongoing commitment to being an ally can lead to rewarding experiences for all, like being welcomed into an inner circle of chosen family members.

Tune in to It Gets Better 2021 Holiday Extravaganza on Twitch in celebration of chosen family on Dec. 22 at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET.

Ross W. von Metzke is the director of communications and public relations for the It Gets Better Project.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.