#LoveHandlin: Family

By : Jerick Mediavilla
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Everywhere I’ve been in my life—every memory filled with laughter, companionship and solidarity—has been defined by family. From my own family in Puerto Rico, to the families that have cared for me in D.C., Mexico City and now Orlando, to the co-workers I spend so much time with; they have shown me the true magic that two or more people loving each other can create.

It is an insuperable feeling when in hard times, sickness or peril someone from your family circle comes to the rescue, calls you or even texts you. It is our innate response to always be available to others, especially those we have grown up with, shared a life-changing moment with, those we have decided to marry or those who are brought to this earth as our children. I am sure that as your read these lines, many people come to mind, along with flashbacks of those milestones that have defined your relationships to them.

In Orlando, there is no better social experiment to see and understand family than to spend a whole day walking around any of the world-renowned theme parks. It is an unmistakably family-oriented space where everyone enjoys the collective camaraderie of sharing the sweaty, humid, sensory over-stimulation of traditionalist family values. Some folks go by themselves, but the vast majority of the people you see walking around do so with their pack, smearing their sunscreen-covered faces with the occasional, albeit barbaric—as my fiancé calls it—BBQ’d turkey leg. This is all good though because the conception of a family involves the sense of protection and support that’s inherent and expected and sets it apart from any other social institution known today.

For the past 50 years, LGBTQ activists and allies have worked, to say the least, on redefining the concept of family to widen the many variations that make up the social definition of the word. It wasn’t until 2015 that our definition was finally acknowledged and our families became visible in the eyes of the law, enshrined at the same altar as any other family institution in existence. We were granted the same protections, turning our family into a gigantic community bound by the same values of respect, inclusion and unity. This visibility also uncovered the clash that occurs when traditionalist defenders of the original family definition are faced with the updated conception of a family.

Just imagine what it must be like for a member of the LGBTQ community to belong to one of these units. The eerie reality of a family rejecting their own members just because of who they love is a story we know so well and can relate to far too often. It is a notion that goes against the ideal foundation of the family as an institution and the rights of any individual’s life.

Fortunately, the true nature of family is always unconditional and infinite. I have witnessed how family rejection creates an opportunity to recommit to a new, accepting group that ultimately reshapes our way of looking at the individual value each member brings to your life; the same way now marriage portrays the diversity we all represent, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity. However, it is easier said than done for some people undergoing painful family dramas, especially because they are LGBTQ. The need for validation—or lack thereof—from the members of the immediate family results in an unnerving struggle that undermines the confidence of the individual in a rippling effect.

For those of us who do not deal with these stressors and, while being LGBTQ, still enjoy the love and acceptance of our closest family, we have a call of duty to respond. We must come together and be open about issues like family rejection, because many of our strengths and weaknesses as a person, the traits that define us, stem from the values, support and nurturing during our upbringing.

The legal climate that stigmatizes and overtly discriminates against the LGBTQ community affects those in the most vulnerable of circumstances, and without proper care and attention will only cause them to isolate themselves. If you know someone today that deals with a situation concerning family rejection, anyone who is being ostracized by religious institutions, who is being bullied out of their houses or schools, just pick up the phone and call them, text them and offer your support. Our main goal should always be to call out those issues that can hinder a human’s right to properly function in our community.

At some point, we all grew up feeling rejected, bullied or told our “choice” was fateful. We found ourselves wondering where to go for answers whenever we felt alone and there was nobody to listen to us, stand up for us or cry with us. Along the way, most of us found that tribe we chose to lean on, that brotherly face we could ride to college with or that motherly or fatherly figure that took us under their wing and showed us that everything was going to be okay. For those of us who have had it easier, we need to pay it forward and become the support system for those who cannot circumvent their own incomprehensible families.

My beloved Dalai Lama once stated: “Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.” To those in our lives—family or chosen—who have pushed us forward, embraced and loved our uniqueness, and always gave us reasons to return, I thank you for being the true definition of the family we must all strive to be.

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