These stories of 'coming out' to family over the holidays may give you courage — or pause.

Mom, dad — it's not a phase.

Thanksgiving is a time to take a step back and focus on what we're thankful for...

Image by TheCulinaryGeek/Flickr.


... and for some of us, it's also a time to get super anxious about introducing our same-sex significant other to our families.

My wife, Sam, and I were dating for a few years before we started spending holidays together. She would join me at lesser holidays with my family: Easter — because she's Jewish — birthdays, and impromptu BBQs. She was my "college friend" or "roommate," depending on who was asking. We always laughed about how ridiculous it was. We thought my extended family must know we're a couple.

The author and her wife, Sam, on Long Island, Christmas 2013. Photo courtesy of Laura Leigh Abby.

Eventually, after I came out to my parents, I let them reveal the truth to my family at their own speed, which worked for me for a few reasons. Waiting made it clear that this wasn't a phase and Sam wasn't going anywhere. And because aunts, uncles, and cousins already knew Sam, I knew their opinions of her wouldn't be based just on our romantic relationship. By the time Sam and I were ready to share holidays, everyone knew we were a couple, and aunts had stopped asking me during Christmas dinner whether I'd met a nice boy.

Which isn't to say it was easy. Like so many others who want to come out to their families, I was concerned about upsetting the family dynamic.

Last Christmas, my friend Clark was nervous about bringing his boyfriend, Andrew, to spend the holidays with his dad's family. The couple had celebrated with Clark's mom in the past, but Clark's dad's family includes a medley of football coaches, Army rangers, and state troopers. He was worried there might be some awkward moments.

Andrew (left) and Clark. Photo courtesy of the couple.

"I knew they were all nice guys, and they understood I was gay, but I had never introduced them to a boyfriend," Clark told me on the phone. But he ended up being reminded of how much he has to be thankful for. "I quickly realized how socially aware, smart, and progressive my family is. Bringing Andrew to spend the holiday with them let me see their true selves and appreciate the people they are."

Travis, 29, remembers going to his dad's house for Thanksgiving when he was 18. "I had come out to my mom, but not to my dad yet," he told me via email.


Travis and his moms. Photo courtesy of Travis Cronin.

"Halfway through dinner, he looked at me and said, 'So I finally got Facebook and saw on your page that you're interested in men.' I turned beet red and before I could really respond, my dad said, 'Well I'm sure you already know, but I love you,' and gave me a hug. All the anxiety rushed out of my body."

Whether coming out happens over time, unintentionally, or is a well-planned holiday announcement, Clark's and Travis' stories reveal that family can truly amaze us with their empathy and devotion.

It's a feeling I know well: The first year that Sam and I decided to alternate holidays, I spent Christmas at her mom's house in Florida. What we didn't know was that it would be her mom's last Christmas. The next year, Sam wasn't just mourning; she was also worrying about how her younger brother would spend the holiday. That's when my mom stepped in. "He'll come here," she insisted.

Just like that, I was brimming with gratitude for my wonderful, big-hearted family. That holiday, a new tradition was born: Now, every other year, when we drive out to Long Island to spend Christmas with my family, Sam's brother comes, too.

GIF from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Of course, families aren't always so supportive.

Kaitlyn, 27, comes from a religious Baptist family. She told me via email that when her parents found out she was gay — on her mother's birthday — her father gave his blessing, but her mother was upset. She wouldn't look at or speak to her. As Kaitlyn recalls, her mother said, "I want to forget this day ever happened."

For many who are considering coming out on special occasions or holidays, this can be a real fear: that not only might your family reject you, but that you'll ruin the festivities, too.

In Kaitlyn's case, time helped heal those wounds.

It's been almost 10 years since she came out, and she says her mother has come a long way since then. "This past year, she has completely changed," says Kaitlyn. "She truly believes not only in gay rights, but transgender rights, too."

Image by Brett Sayer/Flickr.

It's important to come out to your family when it feels right to you.

If your timeline doesn't include holiday declarations, you should trust your instincts and go at your own speed.

Maybe this means coming out slowly and individually to your family. Maybe this means first bringing your significant other as a friend. Whatever you decide, know that we all deserve to be surrounded by people who love and support us. If your family isn't able to do that, reach out to friends who can.

Here's to a happy, healthy holiday with the partners (and pies) of our choosing.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

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A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

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In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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