In the ideal world, no one would ever have to come out of the closet. People would be able to freely love because there would be no such thing as a certain type of love bestowing more societal privileges than any other. Unfortunately, this is not the way the current world works. At some point, at least one of your friends is likely to come out to you as LGBTQIA+. While you may not be able to foresee the conversation, it's still important to know how you will respond if and when it happens. This short list of tips can help you prepare.
Don't Invalidate What They're Saying
Even if your intention is to encourage friends who reveal that they are not straight, if what you say minimizes or ignores what they're telling you, it is unlikely to have its desired impact. There are several common statements that come across as dismissive:
- "Are you sure?" Friends may seem hesitant when they first reveal their sexuality to others. This doesn't mean they don't know what they're saying. Give people the benefit of the doubt, particularly when it comes to their own identities.
- "I already know." On the surface, this seems like an affirmation. Claiming to have known their sexuality before they were ready to tell you or maybe even before they knew themselves, however, ignores the importance of their own discovery process.
- "Cool. Where should we get dinner?" When friends tell you something so deeply personal about themselves, give them all the time they need to do so. Don't rush the conversation by changing the subject.
Do Believe Them
Even if your friends are pretty sure you'll still accept them, fear of rejection can be so strong that it takes a lot of courage to come out to you. Reward their bravery with unequivocal acceptance. Thank them for being vulnerable with you and trusting you with who they are. Confirm that you love them and that you are glad that you're friends.
Don't Center Yourself
Occasionally, you may experience negative emotions during these conversations, particularly within close friendships. For example, it is not uncommon for people to feel betrayed at the thought of their friends keeping such important information about themselves from them. Even if some unpleasant feelings arise, however, remember that this conversation is not about you. Focus on your friend and what he or she is feeling instead.
Do Ask How You Can Support Them
People come out to their friends at different times for a variety of reasons. Once you have confirmed that you still love and accept them, ask what else they need from you. They may want to introduce you to their significant other or may ask you to go with them when they come out to their parents. They may not need any additional support except your friendship at that moment, but when you ask what they need, they learn you're available when they do.
Don't Bombard Them With Questions
Coming out to you is not the same as volunteering to be your personal encyclopedia of what it means to be LGBTQIA+. There's nothing wrong with your curiosity, but don't allow it to tokenize your friends. Your main role, especially if they only came out to you recently, is to listen and be open to whatever they want to share.
Do Your Own Homework
If you want to learn more about how to be an ally to your friends, you don't need them to tell you how. A quick internet search will reveal a wealth of material on the subject. Start with a master list of resources, and go from there.
Coming out to the people they love may be one of the scariest things your LGBTQIA+ friends ever have to do. Knowing how to respond can ease their burden considerably.