Coming out as LGB to your friends is terrifying. All you’ve got goes into analyzing whether your friends are safe to come out to – accumulating all the homophobic things they may have said, watching out for a single detail that might give you a hint to their reaction…And then stepping out of the closet itself – wondering if you’ll face rejection, awkward tension, or (hopefully) love and support.
This is now your friend – maybe this is their first time coming out, or they’re just coming out to you. Perhaps your friend is now the first LGB person you know, and you’re unsure of how to respond, or you’re having trouble reframing your perception of them. Maybe you’re realizing that you’ve said some questionable, homophobic things in the past, to or around your friend. Possibly you think you’re still dealing with your own homophobia and you aren’t sure how to be a supportive friend in the face of this.
Any worries or insecurities you’re feeling don’t have to stop you from being a good friend, as long as you can deal with them in a helpful way. Here’s how.
If you freaked out or were visibly uncomfortable when they came out, step up and apologize for your reaction. Remind them that you still care for them, and that this doesn’t change how you feel about them.
Give yourself a few days to reframe your understanding of your friend. Coming out hasn’t changed who they are – you now just know a little more about them.
Ask them how ‘out’ they are – are they out to their family, other friends, everyone? This will help you avoid ‘outing’ your friend. This is when somebody exposes another person who is in the closet, and can be extremely hurtful and dangerous. If your friend is a teenager, they likely still need their parents for food and shelter. Unfortunately, homophobic parents can be the greatest threat to an LGB child. Abuse, rejection, and even making their child homeless are sadly all-too-common. In the UK alone, 24% of all homeless youth are LGB.
Recognize that your friend isn’t necessarily the best person to go to with any conflicted feelings about LGB people. This would be a very painful reminder of the fear they have about experiencing violent and painful homophobia. If you’re struggling with homophobia ingrained in your religious denomination, you can easily find alternate, supportive views online. Google articles by LGB people of your faith to see their perspectives on religion, upbringing, and how they navigate their sexuality and beliefs.
Discuss with your friend how they would like to be supported by you if you see them experience homophobic bullying or micro-aggressions (these can be snide remarks, or insulting compliments). Would they want you to speak up? To make a show of standing next to them? Or to empathize and listen to them vent afterwards? It’s easy to get angry when a friend is being hurt, but that’s not always the best thing for your friend.
If you truly don’t want to change harmful views about LGB people (such as: “homosexuality is a sin,” “I don’t care as long as they keep it in the bedroom,” etc), letting go of this friendship will actually be best for your friend. If your worldview requires that they must be inherently wrong, they’re better off without you.
While coming out can be scary, it doesn’t have to be. All it takes is a little compassion, and care to support your friend.
Featured image from LGBTQ Nation.