A Letter to Queer Youth with Abusive Families

This is a re-post for Pride Month: 

I spent last week at gay camp.  In all my travels of the world- it is the most magical place I’ve been.

For fourteen years Camp Ten Trees has been providing a space for LGBTQ youth and youth with LGBTQ family members to find compassionate community in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.  Volunteering at camp means canoeing, archery, family-style meals, friendship bracelets, and camp songs just like any other camp.  But unlike other camps many campers come with fears about living an authentic life, homophobic school bully worries, and abuse stories about coming out.

I was missing the beautiful campers I’ve met when I watched a viral video on youtube.  “How not to react when your child tells you he’s gay” (trigger warning: violence, and severe homophobia) is a hidden video of a family responding abusively to a son, Daniel, coming out as gay.

It is absolutely heartbreaking.

The worst part is, this experience is incredibly common.  40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and 68% are homeless due to hateful family interactions and 54% report abuse related to their identity.  Family rejections and hateful religious messages play a huge role in the high suicide rates for LGBTQ youth.  LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to be physically harassed and bullied at school and nearly 60% of LGBTQ identified young people report physical assault or intimidation because they are queer.

Every year, I spend my week at camp trying to affirm these youth as much as I can.  They are truly remarkable performers, writers, athletes and philosophers.  I focus on filling their sweet hearts with all the confidence, self-compassion, and strength I can- hoping it will boost their resilience through the coming year.

But when the camp bus pulls up to say goodbye, so very many of their faces fill with tears knowing they are about to return to a world far less affirming and accepting than our camp community.

When I watched Daniel’s video I cried for him and the thousands of other young people bravely coming out in hateful and violent circumstances.  I wrote him a letter, hoping he and other young people might find it and experience some peace.

Dear Daniel (and all the other Queer youth struggling with hateful families):

I saw your video.  It broke my heart. 

I am so very sorry this was your coming out story.  No one should ever hear the words you heard or experience the violence and threats you did.  What happened to you is abuse.  It is not okay. 

I know nothing I can say will carry the weight that words from your family have, but I feel called to write just the same.

As a member of your community, I want you to know you are not alone.  There are millions of us all around the world.  We are fat and thin, brown and white, professional, and raising children of our own.  We go to school, we help people, we mess up, cry and laugh. We are all around you and we support you. 

You are not alone. 

I want to wrap my arms around you in a hug.  I want to soothe the ache and emptiness you must be feeling.  I want you to know your community is here to help you grow stronger.  Please reach out to us if this feels too hard.   

I heard the word choice used a lot in your video.  My first gay mentor used to say that coming out is the everyday choice between personal integrity and personal safety.  This is the choice you made.  You chose to walk with dignity, self-respect, and honesty as an openly gay human.  What a powerful choice, my dear. 

Coming out is an act of incredible courage.  It takes remarkable integrity to stand up and say who you really are- even in the face of fear.  Your bravery –living authentically in a world filled with critics- will be your superpower in the years to come.      

Whatever you do right now, please be sweet to yourself.  You deserve sweetness.

The next weeks, months, and maybe years might be pretty rough.  Deciding when and if your family will be allowed the opportunity to join your life is a process that may take a while.  Be brave, keep walking with integrity, and most of all- be kind. 

As hard as it is, be kind.  Even though you have looked hatred in the eye, be kind.  Embodying fear and bigotry will eat you alive.  Don’t let anger and fear overtake you, sweetheart.

As you turn and face the world as an out queer person, you will face challenges.  Please hold fast to these reminders on your journey:

You are worthy.  My dear, you are worthy of love, respect, sweetness, and compassion. 

You are enough- just as you are without explanation or justification.

You deserve kindness, generosity, care.  You deserve a family who is warm and celebrates you openly. You deserve friends, and love, and laughter.

When your family’s words run through your head remember: you are worthy, you are enough, and you deserve kindness, generosity, and care.  

Just as you are- just for being you.  

Now breathe, my sweet friend.  This coming out is a trauma that may take time for your body, mind and soul to recover.  Grieve this loss with gentleness and surround yourself with people who compassionately care for you- the whole complex and sometimes confusing you.  

Take care of your body.  

Listen to your heart.  

Be near people who are kind to you, who lovingly challenge you to be the best brilliant version of you.   

Let us cradle you when you are lonely, and help you learn to walk taller on your own. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with loneliness after coming out, The Trevor Project is a national hotline for LGBTQ folks considering suicide- or who just need a safe place to talk.  Don’t be afraid to call them.

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a polyamory consultant, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

11 More Vows for Non-Traditional Weddings

Your big day is coming and it’s going to be the beautiful, exciting, emotional, dream commitment ceremony you have wanted since you were a little kid crushed on a camp counselor and dreaming of long term committed same-sex love.

Nontraditional, unconventional, queer, LGBT, polyamorous and kinky weddings are my favorites because we are up against so many invalidating messages about our love.  It is uniquely beautiful to see two people choose to validate their commitments on their own terms.


There’s just that one thing: your family.  Your mom wanted you to invite your aunt, but you have seen the hateful homophobic and transphobic stuff she posts on facebook.  Imagining what she’ll be like in the same room with your beautiful drag queen friends makes your stomach flip.

You think about your grandpa, and how he stopped talking to you after you brought your sweetheart home for the holidays two years ago.  He’s been distant ever since.  Will that be a downer on your special day?

And then there’s your cousins, you never really came out to them.  Is it weird to come out in a wedding invitation?

Despite all the advice you are going to get, there is no one right or wrong way to decide who should or shouldn’t be there.  No matter what you do, there will always be another possibility to entertain.  The one thing you can be sure of, is that you are doing the right thing for you.

What will make you most comfortable that day?  

What decision will you feel best about one year from now?

Give some thought to each of these relationships.  You don’t have to respond the same way to every one of your relatives.  Choose the path of greatest integrity in each scenario.  Every time you reach a conflict you have five options on how to address it.

Here are some options to consider based on the Five Conflict Management Styles according to Thomas, K.W., and R.H. Kilmann:

Conflict Style 1: Accommodating: This is when you cooperate to a high-degree, and it may be at your own expense, and actually work against your own goals, objectives, and desired outcomes.  This approach is effective when the other party is the expert or has a better solution.  It can also be effective for preserving future relations with the other party.

In your wedding scenario: This means you just invite them.  Your mom is happy to have everyone in one place, and they have the option to say no.  If you choose this option you may want to create support structures for yourself, your partner, and your friends to help buffer them from  homophobic stuff.  Maybe you have a special gathering for just your queer friends, or ask a friend to act as a bigot bouncer at the actual event.  If you choose to go this route, come up with plans to support your celebration so you don’t have to put up with junk you don’t want on your day.

Conflict Style 2: Avoiding:  This is when you simply avoid the issue.  You aren’t helping the other party reach their goals, and you aren’t assertively pursuing your own.  This works when the issue is less meaningfulor when you have no chance of winning.   It can also be effective when the issue would be very costly.  It’s also very effective when the atmosphere is emotionally charged and you need to create some space. Sometimes issues will resolve themselves, but “hope is not a strategy”, and, in general, avoiding is not a good long term strategy.

In your wedding scenario: This means you just don’t invite them.  Your mom may be disappointed (and they might too) but you avoid the issue of having conversations before the day, and or trying to overcome your emotions (and their possible outbursts) on your wedding day.  It is especially helpful if you have family members who are particularly volatile or unsafe in their actions.  Think about the person who just can’t control themselves from saying something rude during your special moments.  If and when physical safety is a concern this is definitely the best route to choose.

You have permission not to invite anyone who will just plain make you uncomfortable.  Remember it is YOUR DAY, YOUR PARTY, YOUR MEMORIES and you have every right to stick to what will being you greatest happiness.  A lot of well-intentioned allies will try to help you just “get over it”, and may even guilt you about your lack of compassion. No matter what they (or I) say only you get to decide what is right for your day.

Conflict Style 3: Competing : This is the “win-lose” approach.  You act in a very assertive way to achieve your goals, without seeking to cooperate with the other party, and it may be at the expense of the other party.  This approach may be appropriate for emergencies when time is of the essence, or when you need quick, decisive action, and people are aware of and support the approach.

In your wedding scenario: You have been practicing setting clear boundaries and stating your expectations with compassion for years, here is a big opportunity to put that practice into action.  Maybe you send them an invite with a letter stating exactly what you expect for their behavior.  Maybe you call them when you receive their RSVP and give them behaviorally specific examples of how you want them to show their support.  Let them know clearly, and with respect, exactly what you want from them on this day, and if they can’t participate and demonstrate support for your partnership they can show they care by staying home.  Or, maybe you don’t invite them and you send them a specific letter addressing why you aren’t including them with compassion, care, and respect.


Conflict Style 4: Collaborating: This is where you partner or pair up with the other party to achieve both of your goals.  This is how you break free of the “win-lose” paradigm and seek the “win-win.”  This can be effective for complex scenarios where you need to find a novel solution.  This can also mean re-framing the challenge to create a bigger space and room for everybody’s ideas.  The downside is that it requires a high-degree of trust and reaching a consensus can require a lot of time and effort to get everybody on board and to synthesize all the ideas.

Conflict Style 5: Compromising: This is the “lose-lose” scenario where neither party really achieves what they want.  This requires a moderate level of assertiveness and cooperation.  It may be appropriate for scenarios where you need a temporary solution, or where both sides have equally important goals.   The trap is to fall into compromising as an easy way out, when collaborating would produce a better solution.

These two conflict styles may overlap in your wedding scenario.  They require more work (in conversation) but can create even stronger more satisfying outcomes.  You have to decide, are these relationships you want to invest in?  Are the other parties willing to meet you somewhere in the middle?

In your wedding scenario: These conflict styles will likely mean these folks come to your ceremony or celebration.  However, they also mean they are coming with an understanding of what you want, hope for, and expect.  And when they arrive you will have a clear understanding of how they can either meet those needs or not.  Either way, you will have had a conversation and may have laid a welcome mat for more communication in years to come.

Remember, only you get to decide what is right for your day.  Consider what will make you most comfortable at your commitment ceremony and in years to come.  Act with integrity and compassion and you won’t regret your choices. 

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a polyamory consultant, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

11 Vows For Non-Traditional Weddings

 Nontraditional Weddings are Beautiful

Every year I am blessed with the opportunity to perform weddings as an officiant.  With the recent changes in the legal definition of marriage and more and more couples redefining with marriage and commitment mean to them I have had more exciting offers to join families for these beautiful occasions.

However, so many of my wonderful unique, nontraditional, feminist, or queer coupleshave difficulty coming up with a ceremony that really works for them.  So many parts of this tradition are linked to beliefs and rules that just don’t fit every loving couple.

In order to help you get started planning your big day (or weekend, or whatever) I want to share some of the vows couples have used in my ceremonies to give you ideas for your own.  Congratulations on wanting to commit to a shared life.

For more non-religious non-traditional vow ideas click here


Share the vows from your nontraditional ceremony in the comments- I would love to read more! 

I choose you to be my partner, my love-equal, and mirror for my True Self.  Be my partner on this path.  I will honor you and cherish you in rain and sunshine till death do us part.

Sweetheart, with all my love, I take you to be my life partner, best friend, and constant companion. I will love you through good and the bad, through joy and the sorrow. I will try to be understanding, and to trust in you completely. Together we will face all of life’s experiences and share one another’s dreams and goals. I promise I will be your equal partner in a loving, honest relationship, for as long as we both shall live. 

When you need someone to encourage you, I am there. When you need help, I am there. When you long for someone to smile with, smile with me. When you have something to share, share it with me.

I vow to always keep my love as pure as it is today. I promise to be there for you in your laughter and your tears, in your sickness and your health, in your comfort and your fears. I promise to be there for you for all your life, come what may.

My love from this day forward I promise you, I will laugh with you in times of joy and comfort you in times of sorrow. I will share in your dreams, and support you as you strive to achieve your goals. I will listen to you with compassion and understanding, and speak to you with encouragement. I will remain faithful to our vows for better or for worse, in times of sickness and health. I will love and respect you always.

 I promise you to laugh more than we cry.  To comfort, encourage listen, and hug.  I promise to love you in sunshine and rain for the rest of my days.  I am grateful for every moment I am fortunate to spend with you.

 I promise to encourage us to try new and unusual things.  I vow to invest in loving you daily and to snuggle you as often as possible.  I vow to be the best parts of me that fit perfectly with the best parts of you.  Although I will be imperfect, I pledge to be sensitive and respectful of your unique talents, abilities and quirks.  I pledge to lend you strength for all of your dreams. Through our union we can accomplish more than I could alone.  I believe in you.

Today I join myself to you before this company to share our love with the world. May our days be long, and may they be seasoned with love, understanding and respect.  I choose you to embark upon this great journey of marriage with me.  I am stronger with you than alone. 

From this moment, I take you, as my companion for life. I pledge to honor, encourage, and support you on this long walk together. When our way becomes difficult, I promise to stand by you and uplift you, so that through our union we can accomplish more than we could alone. I promise to work at our love and always make you a priority in my life. With every beat of my heart, I will love you. This is my solemn vow.

My love, our miracle lies in the path we have chosen together. I enter this partnership knowing that the true magic of love is not to avoid change, but to navigate it successfully.Let us commit to the miracle of making each day work – together.

I take you to be my my spouse, my partner, my friend, my confidant, my soul mate.  Our love may be like the ebb and tide of the ocean, but it will always flow. I will be true and loyal, and cherish you for all the days of our lives.  I promise to love, honor, and offer. I promise to be good, giving, and game in all aspects of our lives.  I love you forever. I pledge my all to you.

Please feel free to edit these as you see fit!  They are just a starting point.  Again, congratulations on your celebration of love!

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a polyamory consultant, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).