At QSA Potluck, Students Talk Family, Holidays

Sharon Kim

QSA hosts a potluck for pre-Thanksgiving dinner yesterday at the Women's Center.

Upwards of 20 students loaded up on cupcakes, mashed potatoes, brownies decked in fall-colored sprinkles, and a pie with “QSA” written in its crust for last night’s Queer Thanksgiving potluck and discussion about how to address LGBT dinner topics over the holidays.

The potluck, which was co-sponsored by QSA, GLOW, CONTACT, and GirlSpot, has been held for several years, but this was the first time attendees were invited to participate in more formal discussion in anticipation of addressing topics of sexuality when going home for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays.

“A lot of LGBT students have complex relationships with their families and it’s important to provide a space where they have a sense of family and community during a time that forces us to think about those relationships,” said QSA Co-chair Marco Chan ’11.

The attendees included students in various stages of coming out to their families. Some had been out and greeted with acceptance, others had faced opposition in their coming out process, and one first-year asked for advice concerning her plan to come out to her family over Thanksgiving.

S. Rue Wilson, associate chief of Harvard Mental Health Services, facilitated the discussion and shared personal stories and words of guidance with attendees.

“The beginning of college is a funky period of adjusting back and forth between being here and other places, and not everyone’s willing to let you be yourself when you go home,” she said.

She added that it is important for LGBT students to allow time for their parents to come to terms with discussions of their child’s identity.

“Sexuality is an important part of who you are, but it doesn’t have to be front and center every moment,” she said.

Wilson emphasized the usefulness of a supportive community, especially considering tensions that may exist between LGBT students and their parents, extended families, and religious or cultural upbringing.

QSA Co-chair Emma Q. Wang ’12, who is also a student member of the BGLTQ Working Group evaluating LGBT resources at Harvard, said that Queer Thanksgiving could benefit from more centralized resources.

“This event happened only because some students thought it would be important to highlight these issues in a safe space,” she said, adding that a staff person with background and experience on these issues could help people grapple with difficult dinner topics. “It indicates how resources don’t only mean material goods but also intangible support, dedicated effort and time.”

Attendee Sarina M. Patterson ’14 agreed that dedicated staff would be helpful in guiding students through difficult discussions about sexuality.

“I feel really welcomed here, not necessarily by any policy Harvard has specifically done, but by all the people, and I feel like this Thanksgiving event really strengthens those bonds,” she said. “You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends, and I feel like the people here are becoming a kind of family for me.”

—Staff writer Alice E.M. Underwood can be reached at aeunderw@fas.harvard.edu.

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