A “chosen family” includes those who support, guide, and offer kinship, especially crucial in the LGBTQ+ community due to historical discrimination. This alternative family brings comfort and a true sense of belonging, embodying the essence of the holidays for many.
In this article, we will talk about Chosen Families and how they can change lives. They change lives because (1) Chosen families can redefine Holidays, (2) they will be there in the hardest times, (3) Chosen families are the building blocks for marginalized communities, (4) there is a need for chosen families, and (5) chosen families are intersectional.
If you or someone you know is experiencing estrangement from family, or experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other mental health conditions, we have the resources to assist. Please follow the links to access these services.
- Outpatient Therapy: We offer outpatient therapy to individuals of all ages, couples, and families.
- Affirmative Care: All of our therapists are equipped with the knowledge of providing affirmative care to members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, regardless of age.
- Rainbow Connections: Through this program, we can provide outpatient counseling at no charge for individuals who identify as queer and/or who are questioning, regardless of their ability to pay. Services include individual therapy and family therapy, to include a person’s chosen family.
- La Vida Project: The La Vida Project provides the ability to build a community for youth and young adults through free classes to youth and young adults, including dance, yoga, life skills, culinary, and more. We also offer dance classes to adults 18+. The La Vida Project offers free resources such as a clothing closet, events dedicated to educating the community, a safe & affirming place to hang out in, and study hours and tutoring.
- My Friend’s Place (MFP): MFP is a transitional living home for youth ages 16 1⁄2 – 23, who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer+ (LGBTQ+), and who are at-risk of, or experiencing homelessness. Considerations may be made for youth who are experiencing homelessness and who identify as allies to the LGBTQ+ community.
There are many different types of people who have created a family for themselves. Familial separation happens in a number of ways and the loss can be traumatic. The term, “chosen family” is commonly used in the LGBTQ+ community, but it spans to people who are simply rejected by their family or people who feel the need to leave their family because of their family’s harmful beliefs.
1. CHOSEN FAMILIES CAN REDEFINE HOLIDAYS
The LGBTQIA2S+ is overwhelmingly affected by familial estrangement and may particularly struggle through the holiday season. There are circular themes of the holidays, and if a person were to be estranged, it could become a constant reminder. Alea DiGirolamo, a Senior Psychotherapist at myTherapyNYC writes on the benefits of creating new traditions. Her suggestion is to think of new memories and experiences you’d like to create with your chosen family. If it feels better, avoid using the same holiday customs as before, and look for creative ways to explore new traditions.
2. THEY WILL BE THERE IN THE HARDEST TIMES
Embarking on a journey through history, chosen families reveal themselves as an important system of support for the Queer Community. In the late 1980s in San Francisco, the need for a chosen family came from a challenging time when the HIV/AIDS sickness hit hard. This is during a time that many families turned their backs on people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. It is written by the scholar E. Watson who addresses the history of Chosen Families through the work of E. Lewin, that the need for a chosen family was necessary during the hardships of the HIV/AIDS era. Weston states (to paraphrase) how families of choice didn’t just appear; they emerged when people in need decided to stick together through the rough days of the HIV/AIDS problem.
3. CHOSEN FAMILIES ARE A BUILDING BLOCK OF MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES
An article dedicated to chosen families in the National Library of Medicine explores the intricacies and necessities of Chosen Families in the Queer Community. They state how “Chosen family” is a refuge specifically generated by and for the queer experience.” The New York Times, as reported by Dani Blum, covered this topic by presenting examples of the effectiveness of chosen families. We meet the Bickersons, who, over 35 years, crafted their own family traditions. They partake in special activities like fishing trips and holiday parties on a farm in North Carolina. She states “We didn’t have to censor,” Ms. Lasater, now 65, said. “We were real, we were honest, and we could expect to be met with compassion and understanding. ”The Bickerton’s showcase that chosen families aren’t just present; they elevate holidays with unique traditions and hidden merriment.
4. THERE IS A NEED FOR CHOSEN FAMILIES
The main reason LGBTQ+ youth experience homelessness is family conflict, primarily stemming from family members not accepting the youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their straight, cisgender peers. Nevertheless, family rejection is not the sole factor. Other contributors include aging out of the foster care system, poverty, and a shortage of shelters and housing programs, leaving numerous LGBTQ+ individuals without a place to stay.
At FYI+ we address the issue of homelessness through one of our housing programs My Friend’s Place; it is a transitional living facility catering to individuals aged 16 1⁄2 – 23, specifically designed for those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer+ (LGBTQ+), and are either at-risk of or currently facing homelessness. Flexibility is exercised to accommodate youth experiencing homelessness who identify as allies to the LGBTQ+ community.
Chosen families manifest in diverse ways, providing a crucial support system for individuals navigating their LGBTQ+ identities. Even when not estranged from their biological parents, statistics reveal that youth often choose to confide in friends rather than family members when coming out. This underscores the role of chosen families in creating a secure space for openness and honesty. While a significant percentage of LGBTQ+ youth are open about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (SOGI) with at least one immediate family member, a substantial number remain in the closet, as depicted in Table 1.
The Human Rights Campaign reports that 82.7% of youth have disclosed their LGBTQ+ SOGI to at least one family member, with 56.3% choosing to confide in some members, but not all, and 26.4% revealing their identity to all family members. Notably, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to be open about their identities within their immediate family, with 80.1% being out, compared to only 67.4% of transgender and gender-expansive youth. This discrepancy highlights the varied experiences within the LGBTQ+ community concerning familial disclosure.
5. CHOSEN FAMILIES ARE INTERSECTIONAL
Chosen families are a need of the LGBTQ+ community, and each family is different from another. It’s important to contemplate the intersectionality of chosen families. Each family differs from marginalized factors such as immigrant communities , poor communities, and/or communities of color [6,7]. Each chosen family can reflect unique cultures and experiences. An example of this is the Black queer kinship in ballroom culture.
Though Ballroom Culture has been around since the 1800s, it is often referenced from the 1960s to the 1980s as part of the Harlem Renaissance. It consisted of “Houses” which is exemplary of the importance of chosen families. Houses are led by “mothers” and “fathers” who usually are older or established members of the ballroom scene.
Chosen families play a crucial role within the LGBTQ+ community, with each family distinguished by its unique dynamics. It is essential to consider the intersectionality of chosen families, recognizing that each family is influenced by various factors such as membership in marginalized communities like immigrants, those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and communities of color. This diversity allows each chosen family to embody distinct cultural perspectives and experiences.
An illustrative example of this diversity is found in the Black queer kinship within ballroom culture. Although Ballroom Culture traces its roots back to the 1800s, it gained significant
recognition during the Harlem Renaissance from the 1960s to the 1980s. Central to this culture are “Houses,” which exemplify the significance of chosen families. These Houses, led by “mothers” and “fathers”’, typically older or established members of the ballroom scene, underscore the importance of building supportive networks within the LGBTQ+ community.
In summary, the concept of “chosen family” emerges as a transformative force not only within the LGBTQ+ community but also for various marginalized groups, offering a distinct alternative to conventional family structures. Composing individuals who provide essential support, guidance, and kinship, chosen families become particularly crucial in light of historical discrimination faced by marginalized communities. As the holiday season approaches, it is essential to recognize and support those who have experienced estrangement from their families of origin. If you know someone in this situation, consider inviting them for a holiday meal or activity.
- Blum, Dani. “LGBTQ People Are Choosing Chosen Families.” The New York Times, 5 June 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/25/well/lgbtq-chosen-families.html
- Jackson Levin, N., Kattari, S. K., Piellusch, E. K., & Watson, E. (2020). “We Just Take Care of Each Other”: Navigating ‘Chosen Family’ in the Context of Health, Illness, and the Mutual Provision of Care amongst Queer and Transgender Young Adults. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(19), 7346. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17197346
- Laderer, Ashley. “What a Chosen Family Is and Why It’s So Important.” Charlie Health, 26 October 2023, https://www.charliehealth.com/post/what-a-chosen-family-is-and-why-its-so-important
4.Lewin E. Lesbian and Gay Kinship: Kath Weston’s “Families We Choose” and Contemporary Anthropology. Signs J. Women Cult. Soc. 1993;18:974–979. doi: 10.1086/494855.
- Mejía C.E. Mixed-Status Latinx Families: Love and Chosen Family as a Means of Resistance to the American Dream. Tapestries: Interwoven voices of local and global identities. 2015;4:9.
- Boswell D., Stack C.B. All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community. Man. 1975;10:160. doi: 10.2307/2801228
- Cox A.M. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. Mich. J. Community Serv. Learn. 2017;23 doi: 10.3998/mjcsloa.3239521.0023.210.