However you do Christmas, everyone’s welcome at Tesco. That’s the message of Tesco’s Christmas advert this year – and it’s an important one in a time of division in the country.
But one thing struck me about the ad. For all the diversity, everyone seems to be surrounded by people they love – in most cases, family.
Most people reading this will already have plans to go and see family this Christmas. You might be eagerly awaiting a reunion after time apart, or simply looking forward to all your festive family traditions. Or perhaps you’re in the category of people who slightly dread it – the Brexit debates; the uncle who gets on your nerves; the arguments over the turkey.
I’m more conscious than ever this year of people who won’t be seeing family this Christmas, and one group stands out more than most. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are much less likely to see their biological family – one in eight see them less than once a year. You don’t need to be a sociologist to work out why that is. So often, LGB people are punished and rejected by the people who should accept and love them unconditionally, simply for being honest about a fundamental part of themselves.
Being separated from family is hard to imagine if you’ve never been through it. What do you do? Of course, you turn to whoever becomes your network of support.
In many cases this becomes a partner or children. But LGBT people are more likely to be single, and this problem becomes especially acute for older LGB people. Older LGB people in particular are much less likely to have a partner or children than older heterosexual people. Gay men over 45 are especially likely to be single according to a recent study in the US.
When you’re single, if you don’t have family to turn to, your friends become so much more important. Friends become family to many lonely LGBT people. I recently heard a young gay man say that his friends may not think of him as family, but that’s what they are to him.
But Christmas is a time when this comes home to lonely LGBT people. They may have busy social calendars most of the year, but at Christmas if they don’t have a partner or family, they need their friends more than ever. But where are those friends? Often they’re with their partners and families.
I’m relatively young and am blessed with a family. But I’m acutely aware as time marches on that increasingly it’s mostly my straight friends who are settling down, married, having kids, while most of my single friends are the ones who aren’t straight. As a single guy, my friends are hugely important – but there are more and more times when I want to connect with them but can’t as they’re all busy with their partners. If I didn’t have a biological family, I don’t know where I’d turn at Christmas.
With all of this in mind is it any wonder that mental health problems and suicide rates are so much higher among LGBT people?
You can do something to help, though. If you’ve got LGBT friends who are single and won’t be with family this Christmas, look out for them. Look beyond your full house and full life and show them they matter to you. Remember that they may value you much more than you realise, and may need you more than you need them. If you can, invite them into your home on Christmas Day. If you can’t, please check in with them. Give them a call or a message. Wish them a Happy Christmas and let them know they’re loved. It could mean more than you’ll realise.