“Coming out” is defined as the process of recognizing, accepting, and sharing with others your sexual orientation or gender identity. It can also refer to the time when a person comes out to themselves.
Since the LGBTQ Community is often looked down upon, this process can be very challenging. If someone you know comes out to you, there are positive and negative ways to react. Here’s some advice on what to do to in order to not make the person comfortable and not behave offensively.
1. DO Listen
Coming out is a very hard process for many LGBTQ members. Conversations may be short or long. It may be as simple as, “I wanted to tell you I’m …” or it may be a long story. Be sure to listen with attentiveness to allow the individual express themselves freely.
2. DO Respect Confidentiality
Expressing your sexual orientation or gender identity is often very personal. While the individual may not say “this is between us” it is best to assume they want to keep it confidential. If you really want to share it with others, try asking the individual if they mind. They may want you to be discreet, or they may very well not mind in order to meet other members of the LGBTQ Community.
3. DON’T Question Them
If you’re close with this friend, these may be conversations they initiate in the future, but it is not your place to ask in the same moment of them coming out to you.
4. DON’T Overreact
In order to make them feel comfortable, don’t reply with statements like, “Wow I had no idea!” You can express your feelings calmly, but certainly keep your tone of voice at the personal level as they probably did when they came out to you.
5. DO Educate Yourself
For many people, the LGBTQ Community is an unchartered territory, filled with identities and information they never knew existed. You should take your friend’s coming out as part of the LGBTQ community as the motivation to learn more.
6. DO Support Them
Now, I can’t tell you to support the LGBTQ Community. I’m not going to tell you what to believe or not believe. However, in the effort to make them feel comfortable, whether you are or are not a supporter, in the moment, don’t just walk away. You may personally choose to not associate with them because of their identity, but don’t disclose that in the same conversation.
7. DON’T Cut Them Off
I advise you not to betray your friendship over their identity, but those actions are your choice. But cutting them off also translates to the actual conversation. Don’t say things like, “Wait, are you coming out to me?” Let the individual finish and listen to them.
8. DON’T Laugh
Maybe you already kind of knew their identity so you find it kind of funny that they have made it into a personal conversation. While this is valid, the individual wants to share it with you, which may be very difficult, and you should respect that. Don’t laugh, as it may be seen as you laughing at their identity. Maybe you already had an inkling so you find it rather amusing that they have made it into a personal conversation. While this is valid, the individual wants to share it with you, which may be very stressful on their part, and you should respect that.