Coming out is a constant internal and external process that can sometimes be met with pain, misunderstanding, and hardship. Members of the LGBTQ population “come out” in many different ways to many different groups. In addition the coming out process can look different for each individual and sometimes an individual can come out without even noticing. Not to mention the coming out process is continual, because the LGBTQ population is an “invisible minority,” meaning that you cannot recognize LGBTQ individuals by the way they look. Because they are an “invisible minority,” this population may find themselves coming out every time they make a new friend, start a new job, or take a class. In any situation it is important to know the risks and benefits to coming out to others. Below are just a few risks and benefits commonly experienced by the LGBTQ population:
Some Risks of Coming Out
- Not everyone will be understanding or accepting.
- Some relationships with friends, family members, or co-workers may be permanently changed in negative ways, and you could end up losing some of this support system.
- Individuals under the age of 18 may be thrown out of their homes or lose financial support.
- Students may lose their financial support for school from their parent/guardian.
- An individual may experience harassment or discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In many cases this harassment or discrimination has no legal protection, therefore an LGBTQ individual may be terminated from their job, denied housing, or denied insurance.
Some Benefits of Coming Out
- Individuals will have the ability to live their lives openly.
- Individuals may build up their self-esteem by being honest with themselves.
- Individuals may develop closer, more genuine relationships with new friends and family.
- Some relationships may be changed permanently in positive ways.
- Individuals may be able to connect more with individuals who identify as part of the LGBTQ population and become a part of the community.
- Individuals may alleviate the stress associated with “hiding” their identity or living their life “in the closet.”
- After coming out an individual may be able to change the common misconceptions about the LGBTQ population simply by speaking out and being open with others. The best way to change an individual’s mind is through a personal relationship.
The previous section of this manual discussed the risks and benefits associated with disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity with others or coming out, this section breaks down some further reasons an individual may choose to or not choose to come out.
What might people who are a member of the LGBTQ population be afraid of when coming out?
- Rejection – loss of relationships with friends and/or family
- Gossip – rumors spread about their sexual orientation or gender identity
- Loss of spiritual foundation- rejection from their church, mosque, temple, etc.
- Being thrown out of the house or of the family
- Loss of financial support
- Harassment or abuse
- Threat of physical violence
- Discrimination including loss of employment or discrimination by their employer
- Questions surrounding their personal or professional integrity
- Questions surrounding their intimate relationships and their health (both mental and physical)
- Being seen by others as sick, immoral, perverted, anti-family, or sinful
How might people who are members of the LGBTQ population feel about coming out to someone?
- Unsure of how others will react
What might people who are members of the LGBTQ population want from others when they come out?
- Reassurance that their relationships has not changed in a negative manner
- Closer relationships to friends and/or family
- Acknowledgement of their feelings
- Understanding and compassion for their coming out process
If an individual chooses to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to you it is important that you take some time to review your own feelings, prejudices, and heterocentric ideals. The coming out process can be difficult for surrounding individuals in a similar way as it is to the actual individual. Below are some things to keep in mind when an individual chooses to come out to you:
How might someone feel after someone else comes out to them?
- Not sure what to say/do
- Concern for them
- Supportive feelings
- Feeling that they are coming on to you
Tips on what NOT to say:
- You’re just going through a phase
- It’s just because you have never had a relationship with someone of the opposite sex
- You can’t be gay- you’ve had relationships with individuals of the opposite sex
- You can’t be a lesbian you’re too pretty
- You can’t be gay you’re to manly
- You’re just depressed
- You’re just confused
- You need some therapy and it will all be better
- You just need to go to church and they will fix you
- Do you really want to be gay?
- When did you choose to be gay?
- You don’t want to be gay, you will get AIDS!
- It’s not normal to want to be the other gender/sex
- Do you like to wear women’s/men’s clothing all the time?
- How do you know you’re gay?
- Have you had sex with someone of the same sex yet?
- Make sure you take some condoms with you
- Which do you like better, men or women?
- It’s about time you came out; I always knew you were gay!
- I love gay people!
- Some of my best friends are gay!
- Remember that the person has not changed. They are still the same person who you knew before; you just have more information about them than you previously had.
- If you are shocked, don’t let the shock lead you to view the person as suddenly different.
- Don’t ask questions that would have been considered rude within the relationship you had before they disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Recognize that everyone’s experience is unique and don’t assume you know what a LGBTQ individual is going through.
- Remember that they may not want or need you to do anything. Often it is simply affirming for the individual to disclose this personal information.
- Consider it an honor that they have trusted you with this very personal information. Thank them for trusting you.
- Clarify with them what level of confidentiality they expect from you. You never want to share this personal information with others without their consent.
- If you don’t understand something or have questions, remember that persons who are LGBTQ are often willing to help you understand more. But remember they are not experts of ALL LGBTQ people. If you want to learn more utilize your resources not these students.
- If you find yourself reacting negatively, remember that your feelings may change. Try to leave the door open for further communication.
- Remember that you too are never alone and that there is a network of Safe Zone Allies here to support both you and your students.
- If you would like more information, ask in an honest and respectful way. If you show genuine and respectful interest in their life, they will most likely appreciate it. Some good questions are:
- How long have you been aware that you were LGBTQ?
- Are you seeing someone special?
- Has it been difficult for you?
- Is there some way I can help you?