A lot of Americans are not looking forward to visiting family over the holidays this year.
With an extremely bitter election barely behind us, tensions are high. And no matter the family ties, many people don’t want to spend time or interact with those who supported “the other side”.
What to do?
I received a poignant letter to my advice column in the Washington Blade on this topic, and I am sharing it, below:
My sister and her husband voted for Trump. As a gay man, I am very hurt and very angry.
They live in Pennsylvania, so their votes really helped him–and the anti-gay Republican platform–win.
I’ve always known their conservative political affiliation but we’ve stayed away from talking about politics. I’m sure we all thought it was better to respect each other and keep the peace. They’ve been extremely cordial to me and my husband, especially since they had a son two years ago and we started driving up from DC frequently to be doting uncles.
When I saw their election day Facebook posts proudly boasting of their votes, I suddenly felt sick. Do I really want to be close to people who voted for a man who preached divisiveness and intolerance, for a second-in-command who derides gay equality, and for the possibility of Supreme Court justices who might undo legal gay marriage, including my own? And it’s hard to imagine someone with a two year-old not wanting to fight climate change, for the sake of their child’s future.
I am especially outraged because we recently had a little girl. I don’t want our daughter to have to grow up in a country led by a guy who demeans, degrades, and assaults women. Yet my own sister and brother-in-law voted for him with a smile.
We’re planning to spend Christmas with them but now I don’t want to. In fact I am feeling like I don’t want to have anything to do with these two people who voted against everything I believe in and against my right to be an equal citizen of this country–a country I am starting to find scary.
Yet they are also my family and we have talked about how great it would be for our kids to grow up knowing each other.
Talk to your sister and brother-in-law before you make a decision, so that you have some understanding of why they voted as they did.
It’s possible that their support for the Republican ticket was not a vote for intolerance. I know that may be hard to imagine, given all that was in plain view during the campaign. But because you are family, and because all of you would like your kids to have a relationship with each other as they grow up, it’s worth learning what they were thinking as they pulled the lever before you jump to any conclusion.
Maybe you’ll hear that they didn’t give the gay issue much (or any) thought.
If that’s the case, even though you’ll be disappointed to learn that rejecting anti-gay bigotry isn’t their priority, you can use the conversation as an opportunity. Share with them the impact that anti-gay attitudes and laws have had on your life in the past. How you are being affected in the present by the resurgent visibility of anti-gay sentiment, including on the part of prominent Trump team members. And what your fears are about the future.
You may help them realize the connection between the positions they take and your well-being.
And of course, you may–or may not–have some influence on how they think about all the other important issues that were wrapped up in this election, including the threat of climate change and of course, misogyny.
However, if you are going to have a discussion, you should be prepared for the possibility of learning that your sister and brother-in-law don’t respect your equality, and that they hold beliefs that clash with your most cherished values.
In that case, how should you proceed?
Family is important, but does that mean that you should continue to spend time with people who think you are less-than?
- You could make the argument that you may help your sister and brother-in-law to ultimately think differently, simply by remaining close to them and letting them know you.
- You could make the argument that you should put aside huge differences and make the effort to be pleasant, so that your children will have a connection to each other and to their roots.
- You could also make the argument that you don’t need to bother with people who can’t be troubled to examine their own conscience over taking positions that demean and harm people they purport to love.
What option should you choose? That is your call alone to make.
No matter what direction your conversation takes, I advocate that you stay calm and be respectful in speaking with them. You’re more likely to have a productive outcome and set the stage for openness and understanding down the road.