Coming Out

Coming Out refers to the process by which one accepts one’s own sexuality and/or gender identity (to “come out” to oneself) and the process by which one shares one’s sexuality and/or gender identity with others (to “come out” to friends, etc.). It is a life-long process—people are continually coming out as they meet new friends, coworkers, peers, etc. Coming out is often a long and difficult journey and is not for everyone, as it potentially poses physical and/or emotional risk. Some feel it is one of the most important processes in developing a positive self-image/identity. Others feel they do not need to come out to have a positive self-image or do not feel they are in a situation in which it is safe to come out.

A Lifelong Process

Coming out is not just a one-time event and does not follow a linear course. For example, each time a person meets new people or starts a new job they must decide whether it is safe to come out. In addition, a person might be out to some people (i.e., friends) but closeted around others. Each coming out experience is unique as reactions can be positive or negative.

When Someone Comes Out to You

We live in a society where people are taught to believe that being "straight" is normal. Therefore, people are indirectly, and sometimes intentionally, taught that being LGBTQ+ is abnormal. This makes coming out very difficult for many people. Like anyone, people who identify as LGBTQ+ accept themselves better if they are accepted by others. So, what do you or should you do when someone comes out to you? It is difficult to know what to say and do when someone comes out to you. Below are some suggestions you may wish to follow if you ever find yourself in that position:


  • Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you. Choosing to tell you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you.
  • Respect your friend's confidentiality. They may not be ready to tell others right away and want to tell people in their own way. It is never your place to ”out“ someone else.
  • Don't judge your friend. If you have strong cultural or religious beliefs about homosexuality, keep them to yourself. There will be plenty of time in the future for you to think and talk about your beliefs in light of your friend's orientation.
  • Tell your friend that you still care about them, no matter what. Be the friend you have always been. The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them.
  • Ask any questions you may have, but understand that your friend may not have all the answers or feel comfortable answering some more intimate questions.
  • If your friend has a partner, include them in plans as much as you would with any other friend.
  • Be prepared to include your friend in more of your plans. They may have lost the support of other friends and family; your time and friendship will be even more precious to them. This may include “family” times like holidays or special celebrations.
  • Offer and be available to support your friend as they “come out” to others.
  • Keep in frequent contact with your friend during the time right after they come out to you to let them know you are still friends.
  • Be prepared for your friend to have mood swings as coming out can be very traumatic. Anger and depression are common, especially if friends or family have trouble accepting your friend's sexual orientation or gender identity. Don't take mood swings personally. Be flattered you are close enough to risk sharing any feelings of anger or frustration.
  • Do what you have always done together. Your friend probably feels that coming out will change everything in their life, which is frightening! If you always go to the movies on Friday, then continue that.
  • Learn about the LGBTQ+ community. This will allow you to better support your friend and knowing about their world will help prevent you from drifting apart.
  • Don't allow your friend to become isolated. Let them know about organizations and places where they can meet other LGBTQ+ people or supportive allies.
  • If your friend seems afraid about people knowing, there may be a good reason.
  • Don't worry that your friend may have attractions or feelings for you that you may not share. If they have more or different feelings than you have, these can be worked through. It's the same as if someone of the opposite sex had feelings for you that you don't share. Either way, it's probably not worth losing a friend over.
  • It's never too late. If someone has come out to you before and you feel badly about how you handled it, you can always go back and try again.