You more than likely know a family member, friend, co-worker, or acquaintance who is LGBTQ. You’ve also probably heard a variety of coming out stories in which the person either felt accepted or rejected. Coming out is an important process that can be difficult for a person to go through. They are more than likely feeling a mix of emotions, including: feeling scared, vulnerable, and proud. They might be worried about being rejected by those closest to them. Many are worried about being harassed by others or losing friends, financial support, or their job. Someone coming out to you is incredibly important, because it shows how much he or she trusts you and values your relationship with them. They are more than likely looking for acceptance, understanding, and reassurance that your relationship with them will not change. You may experience a mix of reactions when someone close comes out to you. You may feel shocked, honored, or unsure of how to respond exactly. If you’re feeling pressure to respond the right way to the person, here are some tips on how you can be the most helpful and supportive.
First of all, remember they have not changed and they need reassurance that your relationship will stay the same. Be sure to still include them in activities and continue to include them in those activities that you already do with them. If they have a partner, include them in your plans as well. The last thing this individual wants is to feel ignored or excluded by you.
They are showing you that they trust you, so thank them for sharing this with you and let them know that you are honored that they are coming out to you. Consider it a privilege that this information was shared with you, because it likely wasn’t easy for them to muster the courage in the first place. Acknowledge the risk they took in trusting you and respect this trust by respecting their privacy. For example, you could say, “This must have been so difficult for you to tell me; I feel honored that you trust me and confided in me.”
Ask what they need from you. They may just need someone to listen to them, or they may need something else. This experience is about their needs and everyone needs something a little different.
Offer your support, love, positive feelings, and reassurance. This can be through a hug or another form of support. Call them to show that you still care about them and will be a continued support.
Ask questions that you have and find out what is within their comfort level to answer. Many times, this individual wants people to ask them questions and feels relief in genuine curiosity and interest.
Everyone’s experience of coming out is different and a continuous process. It is important to show you support them and reassure them that things between you have not changed. They respect and trust you, and it is an honor that they are including you in this process.
For family and friends of someone who recently came out as gay or lesbian, visit PFLAG’s webpage for more information.
Written By: Elizabeth Salland, M.A.
Irons, S. (22, April 2013). What to say when someone comes out to you. Bodymind Counseling. Retrieved from http://bodymindcounselling.ca/article/what-say-when-someone-comes-out-you
Northern Illinois University Ally Program Volunteer Handbook. When Someone comes out to you: Helping someone come out of the closet. Retrieved from http://www.niu.edu/lgbt/resourcecenter/documents/When%20Someone%20Comes%20Out%20to%20You.pdf
USC Student Affairs LGBT Resource Center. Tips for when someone comes out to you. Retrieved from http://sait.usc.edu/lgbt/coming-out/tips-for-when-someone-comes-out-to-you.aspx
Youth Pride Inc. (2010). What to do when your friend comes out to you. Retrieved from http://www.youthprideri.org/Resources/ComingOutAdviceStoriesArt/WhatToDoWhenYourFriendComesOutToYou/tabid/226/