One of the most challenging steps in coming out for LGBTQIA+ people is to identify and explain themselves to heterosexual and cisgender individuals. The fear of encountering negative, hostile, ignorant, callous and judgmental reactions makes it difficult for LGBTQIA+ individuals to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is difficult to gauge how heterosexual and cisgender individuals will react when someone comes out to them. Below are ways to successfully and helpfully navigate the coming out process with someone who identifies as LGBTQIA+.
What Can I Do When a LGBTQIA+ Person Comes Out to Me?
Think carefully about how you will react and what you will say if a LGBTQIA+ person comes out to you.
- Recognize that this is a difficult process for LGBTQIA+ individuals and give them your undivided attention.
- Keep in mind that the experience of coming out is about them, not you. Thus, be an active and empathetic listener.
- Be knowledgeable of resources on campus or in your surrounding area that could be useful to the LGBTQIA+ population.
- Don't deny their experience. It is their experience, perceptions and emotions and just because it doesn't happen to you does not mean that they don't experience it.
- Ask the question "How can I help?" and let them drive the process of support.
- This process looks different for everyone and it takes a lot of courage to come out or to remain in the closet (not out).
- Coming out is not a one time event. Every time that person meets someone new, they have to decide if they want to come out all over again.
- It is important to understand that just because they came out to you does not give you the right to "out them" to someone else. "Outing someone" can be dangerous to a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. They could encounter physical, emotional, financial or personal repercussions. They are in control of the coming out process, not anyone else.
- “Thank you for telling me”
- “I’m glad you feel comfortable enough with me to tell me this.”
- “How are you feeling right now?”
- “How can I best support you?”- If they don’t have an answer to this, that’s okay. Just knowing you are willing to help is great.
- “Whom else have you talked to?”
- "I suspected that you were gay!"
- "Are you absolutely sure and not just confused?"
- “I never would have guessed!”
- “I know someone you should meet!”
- “When did you decide you were gay/a lesbian/etc.?”
- Diminishing the experience by using humor and displaying a general feeling of apathy.