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Supporting a friend in coming out

no i'm not dating Celia, i'm gay

whoa dude, you're what now?

Coming out is when LGBTQ people disclose their gender or sexual identities. People come out for many reasons: to celebrate who they are, to relieve the stress of hiding a part of themselves and to find community.

Coming out is a unique experience for everyone. It can be hard for some people and easy for others. It might depend on who they are coming out to. Some people choose to never come out and that’s okay. Other people may decide to go back in the closet to stay safe. LGBTQ people don’t just come out once. Every time they meet new people, they have to decide whether or not to come out. 

How can allies be supportive?

When a friend comes out to you, they have made themselves vulnerable. They may be worried that you’ll be uncomfortable or judgmental, or even reject them. Here are some ally tips to make your friend feel safe and cared for.

  • Even before anyone comes out to you, make it clear that you respect and celebrate LGBTQ people. You can do this by challenging transphobic comments, bringing up that you’re pro-marriage equality, sharing a bi-positive article on social media, etc.
  • Let your friend come out to you. Even if you think your friend is LGBTQ, they may not be ready to tell you yet. Let them have control.
  • When they bring it up, stay calm. Remember how hard this may be for your friend. Be supportive of your friend but also let them know if you need a bit of time to have some feels and process. If you take some time, be sure to bring it up with your friend again so they know you still want to be supportive.
  • Listen. Don’t give advice. Don’t interrupt. Keep the focus on them. Be a friend to them like you would to any other friend who is sharing something sensitive with you.
  • If they’re coming out to you as trans or non-binary, they may want to be called by a different name or pronouns. Respect these changes without judgment.
  • Thank them for their trust and reassure them you care for them and that you’ll continue to support and be a friend to them.
  • Affirm their identity. Their previous dating history doesn’t invalidate how they identify now. Someone can be a trans man even if they used to enjoy wearing dresses. Gender can be fluid. Your friend is an expert on their own identities and experiences.
  • Ask them how you can be supportive. For example, you could find resources on LGBTQ community events, help them come up with a game plan to come out to their family, or ask if they want a hug.
  • Reassure them that you won’t tell anyone unless they want you to, for example if they would like your support in coming out to more people.
  • Continue to do what you have always done with your friend. Reassure them that nothing has changed in your friendship.
  • Be open to talking about it. Coming out is a process. Your friend needs to know you’re a safe person to talk to, and not just once. Be careful of when and where you bring it up. Prioritize safety and confidentiality.
  • Celebrate your differences! Avoid “flattening” your differences by saying “you’re gay and I’m straight but we’re all the same.” You’re not the same, but you can still treat your friend the way you did before—with respect, care and support.

Coming out was a difficult process for me. Because of my conservative upbringing, I was always worried that I would come across as a freak or abomination to others. When I came out to my best friend, I was very surprised and moved at how humanely he treated me. Our interactions didn’t change and he was always there for me.

Whenever we encountered homophobia, instead of grieving like he was personally affected, he checked in on me and centred my concern about safety. He is an active fighter against homophobia yet I have never heard him flaunting his allyship to people. To him, being an ally is more than just saying he is, he actually does it. - MFS

What not to do when someone comes out

  • Don’t make it about you. You might have a lot of feelings when a friend comes out to you: happiness about your friend trusting you, being challenged by their new identity, or hurt that  they didn’t tell you sooner. It’s okay to feel any of these things, but don’t unload these feelings on your friend. Ask other people for support (remember not to out your friend unless they’ve said it’s okay!), journal, or find a creative outlet.
  • Don’t react with hostility, pity, judgment, blame or any other negative responses. Your friend is being brave and needs your support. Reacting negatively can invalidate what they are going through. Instead, try and put yourself in their shoes and have empathy for how hard it is to come out to a friend.
  • Don’t belittle their fears by pressuring them to come out further or implying that coming out isn’t a big deal. The world can be a tough place for LGBTQ people. They have a right to decide how and when they come out, and to whom.
  • Don’t focus on the risks. Your friend already knows the dangers of coming out and has probably thought about them a lot. It’s more helpful to let them know you’ll be there if something goes badly.
  • Don’t make it impersonal by telling your friend how much you love LGBTQ people. Lumping your friend into a big category makes it seem like being LGBTQ is something you can choose to like or dislike, like pop music or rom coms.