In Praise of Family Portrait

Suzi Nash has written PGN’s “Family Portrait” since 2005. Photo by Jaleel King

It’s hard for this editor to choose a favorite column or section of PGN. Like any newspaper, everything works together to give readers of various tastes something they can enjoy. Whether it’s breaking news, community organization profiles, legislative and judicial updates, film reviews, or even horoscopes, we try our best to provide something each week that readers can enjoy regardless of interest. But there’s a common goal in everything we publish. Each topic we cover might focus on different concepts or different people, but they all come together for a similar purpose: to show the breadth, depth, and visibility of the LGBTQ community. 

But one favorite (but please note, not the only one) section of PGN has to be Family Portrait, our weekly profile of a member of the LGBTQ community. Now in its 18th year, Family Portrait accomplishes so much, and it does so with simplicity.

Each week, Suzi Nash interviews people ranging from LGBTQ actors, singers, athletes, businesspeople, elected officials, healthcare workers, barbers, artists, architects, religious officials, and more. If you ever wanted a resource that proves we are everyone and everywhere, Family Portrait is it.

But beyond just showing that LGBTQ people are in every industry, Family Portrait also shows that LGBTQ people are from every walk of life. Any stereotype that anybody ever had about LGBTQ people can be smashed by simply reading a few volumes of Family Portrait. We are not, and have never been, only one thing.

Sometimes, though, it’s not enough for people to merely be told that we are a diverse community. They need to be shown; they need to actually get to know people in the community and learn about who they are and how they view the world. And that’s where Family Portrait truly shines.

Most news articles, or even arts profiles, aren’t able to ask go in-depth about a person’s coming out and aren’t able to ask questions like “what was an early sign you were gay?” or “what’s your relationship with your family?” or “when was the last time you danced?” And yet the answers to these questions are often the most interesting and important parts of a person.

One stereotype that many people have (or have had, until recently) is that LGBTQ people have a hard time coming out because they’re afraid their family will react negatively. But when you read Family Portrait, you find that a great many LGBTQ people had supportive families from the get go, and that the difficulty of coming out often comes from within. You also find that many people did, indeed, have traumatic coming out experiences with their families. But no one story is applicable to all.

Another LGBTQ stereotype that Family Portrait is able to break each week is that we’re all artistic and work in specific industries related to the arts. It’s true that LGBTQ people, because many of us knew we were different from others at an early age, often have different ways of seeing the world and want to express that point of view. But we’re not all in the arts. That unique point of view can be valuable to any industry. Looking back at all the Portraits in 2021, we interviewed: sports announcers, exotic plant and pet store owners, executive administrators, reverends, beekeepers, massage therapists, historians, garage door installers, political organizers, and, yes, artists.

It’s nice to read Family Portrait and learn about someone who feels similarly to you and/or grew up similarly to you. It’s also nice to learn about someone from a completely different background and with a different perspective on life. Both experiences are invaluable to LGBTQ people, and both are necessary if we’re to grow as a community.