When I was a newly-out lesbian teen, I developed a personal hatred for the holidays. So many people, with so many opinions about my life, sitting around a table where we were all expected to bow our heads in prayer to a god that most of my family believed would condemn me. To this day, though, one of my most precious memories is the day I overheard my Jesus-loving, Sunday-School-teaching grandmother stand up for me when a relative made a snarky comment about me being gay.

I was two rooms over, and through very thin walls I heard the joke, at my expense. Then I heard my grandmother use her Army Drill Sergeant voice: “No matter what, she is family and you will respect her.” That relative didn’t say another word to me that day.

We lost my Gram many years ago now, but that was the day she taught me the importance of being an ally. It can be really hard to be an ally during the holidays. Balancing our awkward and stressful family dynamics in a state like Maine that is overly steeped in tradition and homogeneity can be extremely difficult. The line between being a good ally and being a respectful family member can be a tough one to walk.

In Maine this year, many Thanksgiving table conversations will likely turn to contentious issues like the presidential impeachment hearings, school mascots, and asylum seekers. When I’m faced with moments where one of my loved ones is demonstrating their close-minded beliefs, I ask myself, “What Would Gram Do?”

I don’t know how my grandmother would have felt about our modern issues, but I know that on that holiday when I was sixteen, she believed I deserved respect. I try to channel her energy when faced with discussions of injustice and find myself inspired by her quick wit and personal strength.

With that in mind, I want to offer you a few creative ways to peacefully change the dialogue around these topics at the dinner table.


Asylum Seekers

Chances are good someone you see during the holidays will be upset that Maine has welcomed so many asylum seekers in 2019. Trying to remain supportive of New Mainers, without creating waves in your own family can be tough. For this topic, I’m particularly fond of redirecting the narrative. Ask a few questions about your own immigrant ancestry. Chances are good that your “Fox & Friends”-watching great aunt isn’t going to change her mind about this, but it’s a good way to get younger members of your family thinking about the reality of your family, and the fact that so many of us walked a similar path as our Newest Maine residents.

Native American mascots

This one requires some research ahead of time, but it’s valuable research even if you don’t get an opportunity to use it. Learn about the tribes from your area. Read articles by Maine Native Americans like Ambassador Maulian Dana and Sherri Mitchell about the history of Maine’s tribes. Attend one of the public events hosted by Maine’s five federally recognized tribes and be able to tell your relatives how well our tribes can represent themselves without the help of a football team. If you can come to the dinner table with knowledge of the true history of this land, and the beauty of Maine’s tribes, it will be far easier to defend them when the topic arises.

Opioid Addiction

There isn’t a family in Maine, including mine, that hasn’t been touched in some way by the opioid crisis, and so many Mainers struggle to approach the victims of this crisis with compassion. Learn about the Lead with Love campaign. I will be wearing my heart-shaped pin to Thanksgiving dinner, and I encourage you to do the same. Be ready to remind your family and friends that opioid addicts are victims and that substance abuse disorder won’t be remedied with imprisonment but with a compassionate heart.

My final piece of advice is this: Remember that it’s okay to say no to family events that you are worried will be contentious. We can’t change the minds of all of our close-minded relatives, but we can show them that respect is earned. We can keep our distance, for our own mental health and well-being. We can choose who we spend the holidays with.

The preceding originally appeared on mainebeacon.com, a website and podcast created by progressive group the Maine People’s Alliance.

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