June in the United States is Pride Month, where we celebrate and honor the LGBTQ+ community and to commemorate the Stonewall Riots that occurred in June 1969, kicking off the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. Every June, queer folks and their allies use this month to recognize the impact that LGBTQ+ people have had on the world. If you are working toward being a better ally, one way to practice that is supporting someone as they come out.
Coming out can be a scary prospect for a queer person. There is a lot of hate in the world, and unfortunately, LGBTQ+ folks have to deal with quite a lot of it. Queer folks face discrimination in the workplace, in the medical field, in housing, in education, and many other institutions in our society, not to mention the discrimination that comes directly from other people. LGBTQ+ have not always felt safe coming out, and it’s important to recognize why.
Our culture is dominated by folks who are cisgender (this just means not trans. It means that you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth!) and heterosexual. That means that, like other minorities in the US and around the world, LGBTQ+ folks are seen as ‘other.’ Being othered can be an intensely lonely, confusing experience. Supporting someone as they come out can go a long way to making them feel safe and valued.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you support someone coming out:
Take it seriously
Supporting someone as they come out is an honor. This person has trusted you with their real self. Remember, this person has the right to choose how and when to come out. Just because you have information about someone doesn’t mean it’s yours to share. Have a talk with your friend about what information they want to be kept private. Ask if they’d like you to be available to correct pronouns or answer questions.
Control your reaction
Remember, this person is coming to you because they trust you and because they’re ready to show you their true self. It is up to you not to react poorly to this disclosure. Tell them that you support them and that you will be there for them through the process. They are probably worried about being rejected, so make it clear right off the bat that’s not what is happening. Ask them how they’d like to be supported. Offer them a hug or hold their hand. Let them know you’re in their corner. If you need space to process your own feelings about this information, save that for after the conversation.
Don’t make it about you
Just because someone has come out to you doesn’t mean that they are attracted to you. Other people won’t think you’re queer just because someone in your life is. If you’re hurt that they kept it from you, remind yourself that they probably had lots of good reasons, including protecting their own mental and physical safety. Remember, this process is about them and not you.
Offer your pronouns
This is a great, ongoing way to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community in your everyday life. In order to normalize asking for people’s pronouns, freely offer your own and ask others for theirs. Add yours to your email signature. Put them in your social media bios. Make it a habit, so it rolls right off the tongue when you introduce yourself.
Never, ever out someone
Outing someone is an act of violence. There is never, ever a reason to out someone. Coming out is extremely personal, and it’s the choice of that person alone. Unless you have the express consent of the person, never, ever out someone.
One important part of being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is continuously educating yourself and unlearning many ways we cause harm to queer folks simply by existing in our society. Like all minorities, LGBTQ+ folks face microaggressions every day. It’s crucial for allies to take the time to learn how to avoid microaggressions and how to best support the queer folks in their lives. Many of us don’t get adequate education on how to support the LGBTQ+ people in our lives. Our health and sexual education are mostly focused on cisgender heterosexual individuals, so you might be unsure of where to go to get accurate information so you can educate yourself. Some good places to start are PFLAG, GLAAD, and the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Remember, being an ally is all about constantly learning, so don’t punish yourself for not knowing what you don’t know. The important thing is to stay curious, respectful, open-minded, and honor people’s boundaries. If you’re looking for more ways to support someone coming out, our Houston counselors can help you come up with a plan that works for you and your situation. Get in touch today!