The decision to “come out,” or disclose one’s sexual orientation, is an important part of an LGBTQ person’s path to self-acceptance. When a friend comes out to you, it shows they trust you and value your relationship. For heterosexual people who haven’t had the personal experience of coming out, it isn’t always easy to know what to say or do when a person comes out to you. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you respond in a supportive, loving way. While this list is not definitive, it is a good starting place. The UNC LGBTQ Center can provide additional resources, both online and in person.
- Practice active listening. Respect the importance of the conversation, and be engaged.
- Keep their confidence. Coming out can be a difficult process, and your friend has the right to control who they are out to and when. Sharing this information with you is a sign of trust – respect that. This does not mean you have to be burdened. If you need someone to talk to, Counseling and Psychological Services staff can provide a good outlet.
- Respect your friend’s romantic relationships as legitimate. Their partner is not their “special friend.”
- Support your friend’s decisions.
- Assure your friend that you love them and that your friendship is not going to change.
- Attend a Safe Zone training to educate yourself on issues facing LGBTQ communities and build skills to help you become a better ally.
- Practice self-care. Hearing this news can bring up any number of feelings and it is perfectly okay to seek help, or do what you need to take care of yourself.
- Offer unsolicited advice.
- Expect your friend to conform to your idea of what constitutes proper sexuality.
- Insist your moral stance regarding sexuality is the only valid one.
- Assume your friend is interested in you romantically.
- Ask prying questions about their sex life or HIV status.
- Let your friend feel isolated. Include them in more of your plans to counteract any lost support.
- Feel offended that your friend took so long to tell you.
- Feel offended that your friend told other people before you.
- Rush the conversation. Give your friend as much time as he/she/ze needs.
- Tell them you always knew they weren’t heterosexual.
- Minimize the importance of this step.
- Make this a one-time conversation. Make it explicit that your door is always open for him/her/hir.
Keep in mind that it is never too late to apologize for something you said or did when a friend came out to you in the past. If you reacted poorly, you can still apologize and begin to rebuild the relationship.