If you have a gay family member or have ever had the realization that “my friend is gay,” you know how important it is to support your loved one – whether they are out or not. It’s an honor to be included in someone’s coming-out journey. It means they trust that they can be their authentic self around you.
There are still prejudices in society that our LGBTQIA2S+ loved ones face, and in some circles, their identity can endanger them personally and professionally. So they must have people in their inner circle who they feel safe being around. Here is how to support someone coming out to you with love.
8 Meaningful Ways to Show Your Support
Sometimes learning someone’s sexual identity can come as a surprise. If you’re second-guessing what to say or how to act regarding a friend or family member coming out, this guide can help.
1. Listen and Reassure
Your loved one may or may not be comfortable coming out. It’s important that they initiate the conversation with you. Show your active listening skills in everyday conversations so they know you will be a good listener during sensitive discussions. When they come out, reassure them of your love and friendship and acknowledge their authenticity.
2. Don’t Make it About You
You may be wondering "how to know your friend is gay" or "how to tell if your friend's gay" if a loved one hasn't come out to you yet. It's tough when you feel like they're not letting you in and want to be supportive, but you must recognize it's not about you or your timing. If you stumble across the information and they haven't said anything to you, you don't need to address it specifically. Instead, make generally supportive statements in conversation. Don't be judgmental or pushy.
If they begin to open up to you, let them know it’s ok to talk about their gay experience with family members like you who are loving and supportive. They may feel more comfortable talking to you, opening the door for deeper conversations. If you can relate to their experience, that’s amazing. Just be sure to make your experience a secondary comment. Coming out is their moment, not yours.
3. Follow their Lead
If your thought process is, “My friend is gay, what do I do?” – follow their lead. If they're casually telling you, follow suit. If they're speaking through tears, don't make insensitive remarks or jokes. If they're telling only you, then don't spread the news.
On the flip slide, if your loved one (particularly if they are younger) needs advice or protection, you need to step up and do some research about their specific situation. In this case, take the lead to ensure they feel safe.
4. Thank Them
Take a moment to process the information if you need to. Don’t respond before you’re ready to say something supportive. As you adjust, thank them for telling you. Even if you don’t really need an adjustment period, still thank them for their honesty and for trusting you!
5. Ask Questions Sensitively
It's ok to ask questions. But again, follow their lead. They might prefer to state their identity and move on. But if they seem open to a deeper discussion, keep the conversation open and your tone respectful. Notice or ask if they prefer different pronouns than what you're used to calling them.
One of the most fun parts of supporting young gay friends or family members is celebrating with them. But you don’t have to wait until Pride Month in June to do this. Celebrate them anytime, in both big and small ways, with warm hugs, and words of support and encouragement – whatever feels most natural.
7. Be Mindful
Brush up on your LGBTQIA2S+ history. It’s not their job to teach it to you. Even a few years ago, gay marraige was illegal. The reason why gay rights is still a sensitive topic is because of the long global history of discrimination and hate. LGBTQ+ people’s lives were in danger, and still are.
Also, don’t make stereotypical assumptions based on sexual preference or identity. At the end of the day, your friend or family member is still the same person they were before you learned this aspect of their identity.
To go the extra mile in how to support someone coming out, sign petitions and protest when LGBTQ+ rights are threatened. Support LGBTQIA2S+ artists and business owners by watching their shows, reading their books, and buying their products. Put an “I support my LGBTQ friends” sticker in your window to show you welcome everyone in your space. Or, simply show solidarity by being with your friend or family member when they come out to others.
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