A Thanksgiving feast.
Photo by Marcus Nilsson/Gallery Stock

Your guide to surviving your Thanksgiving political conversations

Updated

Thanksgiving is one of the most wonderful times of the year, filled with family, friends, delicious food — and, inevitably, political debates around the dinner table.

So what happens when this year’s biggest news stories come up at your Thanksgiving celebration? We’ve got you covered! MSNBC has put together a guide detailing what you need to know about some of the biggest news stories this year. So when Uncle Joe wants to talk about Syrian refugees, you’ll have all the facts at your fingertips. 

When your dad wonders what’s going on with Syrian refugees trying to come to the US …

When grandpa wonders what can be done about the recent spate of mass shootings and gun violence …

RELATED: Witnesses describe chaos as Paris attacks unfolded

When your mom wants to know what’s going on with Caitlyn Jenner …

  • What does “transgender” mean? Sometimes one’s gender identity, or one’s internal sense of being a man or woman, does not coincide with the sex that person was assigned at birth.

  • Just like you can’t change someone’s sexual orientation, you can’t change someone’s gender identity. So most people who identify as transgender, or trans, seek to more align their physical bodies with their gender identity.

    Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and speaks onstage during The 2015 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty)
    Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and speaks onstage during The 2015 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif. 
    Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty
  • But for various reasons, including choice and affordability, not all trans men and trans women choose surgery. Whether a person has undergone surgery or not, you should use the pronouns with which they identify.

  • The attempted suicide rate hovers around 40% for those who identify as trans, compared with only 1.6% for the general public. As a public figure, Caitlyn Jenner has served as a tremendous inspiration and comfort for many suffering from discrimination, social stigma, and anti-trans violence.

  • About 700,000 people in the U.S. identify as trans, according to 2011 findings from the Williams Institute.

When your uncle wants to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement and whether it should be “all lives matter” …

  • Yes, all lives matter! But it’s helpful to remember the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not proclaiming that the only lives that matter are those of blacks, it is saying that black lives also matter.

  • The “Black Lives Matter” movement agrees that all lives matter, but it specifically seeks to highlight that young black males in the United States are being killed at alarmingly disproportionate rates and oftentimes their deaths are disregarded and not covered in the mainstream media.

    Protesters march next to One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan in New York City as thousands of demonstrators take to the streets demanding justice for the death of Eric Garner, on Dec. 4, 2014. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
    Protesters march next to One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan in New York City as thousands of demonstrators take to the streets demanding justice for the death of Eric Garner, on Dec. 4, 2014.
    Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
  • The deaths of unarmed black men such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray are among those that have brought this bubbling issue into the mainstream. 

  • So, when people respond to the movement by saying “all lives matter,” they are misunderstanding the goals of Black Lives Matter, which is to drive attention to the disproportionate rates at which blacks are dying.

  • In some ways, saying “all lives matter” is like saying “all cancers matter” to a person suffering from lung cancer. Of course, all cancers matter but, at that moment, the person is specifically grappling with lung cancer — not all cancers. The generalization distracts from the issue at hand.

When your cousin wants to talk about Charlie Sheen’s revelation that he has HIV, here’s what you need to know about the disease …

  • It is very difficult for HIV to be transmitted by someone who is HIV-positive and who is consistently taking their medications and has an undetectable viral load like Charlie Sheen. While final results won’t be released until 2017, no one with an undetectable viral load transmitted HIV to their partner within the first two years of the current and comprehensive PARTNER study. The study has so far found that, if someone has a suppressed viral load, the chance they will transmit the virus is at most 4% for anal sex (which carries the highest risk for HIV transmission).

  • While in countries like the U.S. and Europe, the majority of HIV cases are among men who have sex with men, for the majority of the world, HIV is a virus that disproportionately affects women, the majority of whom contract HIV through heterosexual sexual activity.

    RELATED: UN: AIDS can be stopped by 2030, but stigma remains a barrier

  • Just because you don’t engage in high-risk sexual activity or use drugs, doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. The single highest risk factor for HIV infection is being in a committed relationship, in particular for straight women, who have been infected by their husbands or partners who have seroconverted. Many people in committed relationships do not practice safe sex or get regularly tested for STIs, including HIV. When we ignore this fact and discriminate against drug users, sex workers, and LGBT people, HIV/AIDS remains an illness that affects the most marginalized.

  • Drug use itself does not itself spread HIV. Sharing needles does and making bad decisions while impaired does. 

  • No one wants to contract HIV. Alcohol use and recreational drug use often impair judgment, and people don’t make the best decisions in communicating with others or in engaging in risky activities while impaired. Addiction is a considered a “chronic brain disease” by the American Psychiatric Association, and it can affect anyone. About 38 people per day died from AIDS in America in 2012, while more than 100 Americans died of overdoses per day in 2010. It’s not fair to think that people who acquire a disease through sex deserve it. By demonstrating compassion, we remove stigma and thus eliminate crucial barriers to ending HIV/AIDS.

AIDS, Black Lives Matter, Gun Violence and Refugee

Your guide to surviving your Thanksgiving political conversations

Updated