Coming out as a LGBT is a big decision and something that shouldn’t be done out of anger or spur of the moment. Coming out to your friends, family, village, and different organizations you belong is a multi-step process that you may decide is not for you. Each person must decide if coming out is right for them and who they want to come out to. It’s not required to come out to everyone you know, or everyone at the same time. People can take years to decide to come out or decide that they don’t need to come out at all. In addition, coming out is not a one-step process. It is the beginning of many conversations to happen with people in your life.
If you decide that coming out is the right decision for you, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- First, be confident in your decision to come out.
- Second, make sure you have a strong support network. That may mean coming out to someone in your life that loves and supports you that you are confident will accept you coming out to them. It is also good to pick someone that will let you tell others that you’re LGBT when you are ready.
- Third, after coming out to that person, it’s good to plan with them what you will do if you come out to someone and they react negatively. Unfortunately there are people who will treat you differently after you come out. Remember, that is their choice to treat you differently and you can only move forward.
- Finally, above all else, take into account your safety. It might be best to wait to come out until you have more control over your life. LGBTQ teens have the highest risk of homelessness due to their families not supporting them after they come out. If you need support while coming out or feel like ending your life please call or go online to chat with the Trevor Project at 1-866-4887386. The Trevor Project is a 24/7 hotline to support LGBTQ youth.
For a great guide on coming out as a LGBT teen, check out the guide on Empty Closets.
For those who are friends of LGBTQ teens coming out to them, please keep these tips in mind:
- It takes a lot of courage for someone to come out to you--listen to all they have to say without interrupting, judging, tuning out or buying into stereotypes about LGBT people.
- Tell them how pleased you are that they trusted you enough to share something so personal and congratulate them on the bravery it took to be so honest.
- Let them know that you feel the same way about them as you always have and that nothing has changed (except that you can be even closer than before).
- Ask questions and show that you are interested in learning about their feelings and experiences. Be respectful and stay away from personal issues (sex, HIV, body parts, relationships, clothing, etc.) unless they let you know it’s okay.
- If you are feeling uncomfortable or upset, be honest. Let them know you may need some time to process everything, but acknowledge that it is your problem to work out and not their responsibility.
- Remember that you cannot and should not try to change them--you have an opportunity here to support, not to reform them.
- Ask what you can do to support them or what they need from you right now.
- Follow up. The coming out conversation should be the first of many. Continue to check in and ask questions over time.
- Be open to socializing with their new friends and in a variety of settings, both LGBT and straight. Let them know that they don’t have to compartmentalize their lives.
- Be an advocate. Read up on LGBT issues, wear an LGBT-friendly button or sticker, join a GSA or other LGBT group, and confront homophobia in whatever ways you can.