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6 Ways to Support Someone Who is Coming Out

‘Coming out’ gives the power to the other person to accept or deny you. When you’re ‘inviting them in,’ you have the power. - Karamo Brown, Queer Eye

While the month of June, and subsequently Pride Month, has come and gone, the journeys of LGBTQ+ folks goes forward. For some, this may have been their first Pride celebrating their identities. But there are many others who are unable or not ready to publicly share their identity with those around them.

There are a whole host of reasons why this may be; it may not be safe for some, others may still be exploring and seeking to understand their own identity, some may have a healthy fear of potential and real consequences, and others may be rejected. Being a visible member of the LGBTQ+ community opens you up to numerous stressors that can be overwhelming for even the most resilient of individuals and communities.

If someone in your life identifies as LGBTQ+ and chosen not to disclose this to others or to the world, you may be curious, confused, or frustrated as to how best to support them.

I would strongly suggest you consider and prioritize the well-being and safety of this person first and foremost, even if you do not support them in their identity. I would also recommend that you defer to the preferences and needs of the person who has invited you into their story, rather than make assumptions based off of this article.

With that said, here are some ways that you can support someone who is in the process of inviting others into the fullness of themselves.

1. Value Their Safety

Their safety could be dependent on you choosing to value their story. Do not "out" someone unless they give you permission to do so. “Outing” someone - the act of disclosing someone's sexual or gender identity without consent - can have dire consequences on their financial well-being, family relationships, access to social resources, social relationships, mental health, residential security, and even their physical safety.

Historically, and sadly even today, there are numerous places across the country and world at large that do not accept the natural, valuable, and beautiful diversity of the human experience that includes gender and sexuality. Because of this, many LGBTQ+ individuals feel the need to hide their identity even from those close to them.

When someone chooses to disclose their identity to you, they are letting you into their story. I want to emphasize that it is THEIR story, and they retain all the rights, powers, and privileges that it is their story. It is not for us to decide when, how, and to whom they share their identity, and whether or not it is valid. It is also not up to us how someone should risk facets of their lives. Sharing this part of themselves with you is a privilege, because it communicates a trust that they have imparted to you. Honor that they invited you into their story, and respect their needs.

2. Value Their Bravery

It is terrifying to let others into a part of your life that is vulnerable to rejection, invalidation, or stress. When someone invites you into a fuller understanding of their gender or sexual identity, they are taking a very brave step toward loving and accepting themselves. Stigma surrounding LGBTQ+ individuals that swirls through society at large can often become internalized.

Warm validation and active acceptance is one way we can demonstrate how much we value their bravery and identity. If you are reading this, and do not support someone’s identity, you can still value and admire their bravery and willingness to share this with you and others. It is likely they may have anticipated that you will not support them. That is an incredibly brave choice, and I would strongly encourage you to empathize with how difficult that must have been. If you feel hurt that they didn’t tell you sooner, could you appreciate that it is likely they have been spending all of this time summoning the bravery to do so, or that there must be good reasons they waited?

3. Accept Their Identity

Sometimes, an individual can questioned on their identity or provided with unsolicited or hurtful opinion about their identity when they disclose their gender and/ or sexual identity. For example, if someone shares that they are gay, it is not helpful to say, "Really? I thought that maybe you were bisexual. Are you sure?" This can be invalidating, denigrating their awareness of themselves and their right to self-identify. Even if they are continuing to explore and understand who they are, recognize that it is a process, and that they get to choose who is involved with and where they are at in that process. Something else to keep in mind is that someone sharing with you may not have anything to do with how they see your relationship (i.e., they are not attracted to you just because they’re sharing, or need your approval/ permission to be themselves).

There is a chance that they felt anxious just sharing this information with you. Get a sense of their comfort in the conversation. It is important to keep in mind that this may not be the exact moment for deep questions. I would also emphasize to not ask questions that would have been inappropriate to ask prior to the disclosure. An example of this may include details about what gender affirming care they wish to receive (such as hormone replacement therapy or gender affirming surgeries). If they are comfortable sharing that information with you, they will likely volunteer that information.

4. Let Them Lead

You may feel pressured or driven to provide a certain type of support, such as helping them share with others, attend LGBTQ+ inclusive events, go shopping, etc. Though this is often really appreciated, it may be helpful to seek feedback about what would be most supportive to them at this time. There may not be anything different that you need to do. If they want your help or support in a particular way, let them share how you can best support them. They are the expert on themselves and their needs.

5. Self-Process Complex Emotions First

You may experience a whole subset of complex emotions, even if you are supportive. You may be excited for them in their journey, proud of them for being willing to live authentically, and even grateful for their vulnerability. At the same time, you may feel worried for their safety, concerned about the timing, or scared about the possible implications of coming out. When someone first shares about their identity, take this moment to celebrate. Tomorrow, we can begin to process those complex emotions, whether on our own, with a therapist, or with that person if necessary.

6. Rejection Will Not Lead to Change

Finally, if you are reading this article and do not support someone’s identity, it is important to recognize that is not something you can change. I understand you may feel hurt, scared, or betrayed. You may feel your rejection is necessary, driven by care and concern for their long-term happiness or well-being. But when we reject someone for their identity, all we accomplish is inflict harm on their mental health, lead them to withdraw from a relationship with you where they could have been accepted, or drive a wedge in the relationship that may be difficult to repair.

That person’s identity has always existed. Their identity will not change regardless of your opinion. Don't miss this opportunity to support someone when your rejection will not be helpful for them or your relationship. If they are inviting you into their story, they are probably doing their best to set aside their assumptions about your response to be authentic with you. It will likely be helpful to match their vulnerability with your openness. That will likely be more constructive to their well-being, safety, and connection in your relationship.


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