On October 11th, we celebrate National Coming Out Day! On this day, we lend a little extra support to people who identify as LGBTQ+. “Coming out of the closet” or choosing to be transparent about one’s sexual or gender identity is a big deal.
For some people, coming out to friends, parents, and others is one of the most daunting challenges of their lives. For most people, however, coming out isn’t limited to one singular moment. It happens again and again, with extended family, teachers, and neighbors. So, how should you react if someone you know opens up to you about their sexual or gender identity? Here are a few tips:
- Don’t minimize the importance of the information that is being shared with you. Saying, “I knew it all along” or “I don’t care who you’re attracted to” can feel dismissive.
- Do recognize the forethought and courage that enabled your friend to come out to you. Acknowledge that it must have been difficult for them to confide in you, and remind them that they are safe with you.
- Don’t interrupt. You may be tempted to ask questions or offer advice, but it’s important that you listen with intention.
- Do give them time and space to share their thoughts fully before you interject. Someone has put careful thought into exactly what they want to say to you, and they really want you to hear it.
- Don’t feel pressured to respond immediately if you’re not sure what to say.
- Do take your time by pausing, reflecting, and even asking for a moment to think about what you’ve just been told.
- Don’t ask who they’re attracted to. They may or may not be dating someone, and they’ll share that information when they’re ready. For now, they’re working on sharing important information about their sexual or gender identity with others.
- Do plan to support them if and when they choose to enter into a relationship with someone.
- Don’t ask if they’re sure about their sexual or gender identity.
- Do recognize that some people spend years getting to know themselves and their sexual preferences and gender identity. A great deal of consideration has likely led to this moment.
- Don’t forget to check in on this person’s well-being.
- Do consider that the process of coming out could have been emotionally draining for them, and remind them that what they’re doing is both brave and healthy. Ask how they’re feeling today, and continue to vocalize your support for them regularly.
- Don’t skip the technical details.
- Do ask if your friend identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or something else. Further, ask what pronouns you should use when referring to your friend. By using the appropriate language when speaking to or about your loved one, you are helping to validate their identity.
- Don’t assume that everyone knows.
- Do ask your friend who they’ve come out to and, more importantly, whether or not it’s okay to discuss the matter with others. It’s possible that your friend is ready for the whole world to know about their sexual or gender identity. It’s also possible that they don’t want anyone else to know.
- Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers.
- Do offer to help your friend find resources designed to aid the LGBTQ+ community. Organizations like the ACLU are packed with helpful information for people who have recently come out. By connecting with other LGBTQ+ people and supportive allies, your friend may feel less isolated.
Supporting a loved one through the process of coming out is important work. By treating one person with compassion and respect, you’re making the world a safer and more understanding place for LGBTQ+ people. Reassure your loved one that you care about them unconditionally, and continue to include them in activities and plans. Be patient with yourself as you get to know a truer version of your friend. Let love win!