Mazzoni Center offers holiday help for LGBTQ folks

The holiday season can be stressful, and for many members of the LGBTQ community, it can be particularly harrowing. Fortunately, a variety of local organizations provide helpful resources, many of which can be found within the Mazzoni Center’s annual Holiday Wellness Guide. 

The online guide includes a comprehensive list of advice on ways to cope with holiday-related anxiety and stress, such as dealing with LGBTQ issues in conjunction with family time and ways to manage social anxiety. Since its inception roughly a decade ago, the guide has grown to include suicide emergency resources, housing services and information on 12-step support groups. 

“When we first started out, we knew that this is a time that a lot of people struggle,” said Director of Behavioral Health for the Mazzoni Center Judy Morrisey.

“You’re bombarded from the outside with messages of joy and happiness and the way things should be. We knew that a lot of our folks did not experience that. When we first started the guide, our intention was to really give folks some tips to help cope with some of the negative messages they might be receiving or just perceive about the holiday season.” 

The section on ways of coping with LGBTQ-specific holiday stress includes guidance on how to come out to one’s family, ways to set boundaries in the event that interactions become tense and suggestions for arranging backup plans if necessary. The team at Mazzoni tends to hear the most about handling familial relationships during the holidays.  

“I think that, especially the last couple years, we’ve experienced a very fractured family structure in terms of political support,” Morrissey said. “It’s not just about coming out, but like, ‘Hey, I know uncle so-and-so’s going to be there, and I know he’s a right-wing supporter, and it’s really hard to be in his presence, so here are some things I can do.’ And just offering that person permission to step away, take a breath, leave the room. That has really helped people.”  

Over time, the team at the Mazzoni Center started expanding the guide to incorporate more local resources.

 “We also offer information about events, ways people can stay connected, not only through the holiday season but ongoing,” Morrissey said. 

The guide includes a section on recovery support systems like Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, drop-in support groups, as well as LGBTQ-focused programs.  

One such LGBTQ resource is Philadelphia Freedom Roundup (PFR), whose objective is to help queer folks enhance their mental, physical and spiritual ways of being by using the 12-step regimen similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). PFR provides recovery events year-round. 

Mazzoni Center’s LGBTQ SMART Recovery Group (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is another such support system — a drop-in support group for queer people either in recovery or considering starting the recovery process. The guide includes info about other SMART recovery meetings.  

The William Way LGBT Community Center offers a variety of year-round support groups and counseling services.

“One thing of note is that we have the latest AA meeting in the city — it’s at 11:30 p.m. — every single night here at William Way,” said Rachel Winsberg, the Community Engagement Specialist at William Way. 

Those in need can access free peer counseling from 6 to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, either by appointment or walk-in. William Way also provides a trans support group called TransWay, co-lead by trans women Elizabeth Williams and Kendall Stephens, Thursdays at 7 p.m., where anyone who identifies as transgender or nonbinary is welcome.

Going forward, Morrissey hopes the Holiday Wellness Guide will continue to grow and values collaboration as well as outside feedback.   

“It’s a team effort to update our guide,” she said. “We all put our heads together and things that we see might be useful, but we also like to hear what other ideas people have. I think it has always been an evolving, kind of live document, and I hope that it continues to do that.”

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