Today, October 11th, is national coming out day, in the United States.
Today might be the day that you hear courageous souls declare their sexual or gender identity that differs from the heterosexual cisgender “norm.” When people discover they know LGBTQ people in their own lives “they are much more likely to support equality under the law.” (HRC, 2018) For those of you who may be contemplating coming out the Human Rights Campaign has several resources to support you. https://www.hrc.org/resources/national-coming-out-day
The coming out process has been described as one of the most harrowing experiences a person can go through. The potential for rejection from important friends and family members, the loss of jobs, housing, and legal rights can keep someone from revealing who they really are for years. Determining who is safe, who might accept and support them, when the time and place is right are all factors in the decision to announce who they are.
The Trevor Project studies the prevalence of suicide and mental health issues in the LGBTQ community notes: “It’s heartbreaking to think of the amount of LGBTQ youth out there who feel hopeless and alone, or think they don’t have support, just one supportive person can decrease an LGBTQ youth’s risk of suicide by 30% said Jussie Smollett.
I have had the privilege to hear many folks come out and come to a place of peace and hope once they are able to live life knowing they are loved and accepted. It is my hope that for anyone who is on the receiving end of someone coming out that you can be that safe place for this person to land.
If someone comes out to you here are some things to consider:
Acknowledge that you heard them
Realize the trust that they have in you, by choosing to come out to you. You have the potential of creating more trust or breaking that trust in this moment.
Lead with Love
Affirm your support for them
Recognize the person before you is the same person they were a moment before they came out to you. If you loved them then, their essence is no different, you can love them now.
You can ask for time to process, time to adjust.
If you have any issues with a person’s sexual or gender identity, that person is not the one you need to work it through with. Find a support group such as PFLAG or a therapist to discuss your feelings and concerns.
Ask if pronouns or names are being changed.
Ask permission to ask questions - recognize that some questions get old and the person has likely had to answer it multiple times before.
Ask how you can be supportive
Clarify who already knows. You don’t want to out this person. It is their story and their information to share, not yours.
Consider becoming an ally and supporting LGBTQ folks with the right to exist in a safe and peaceful environment with equal rights, just as you and I would want.
What other factors would be important to remember?