Supporting the LGBTQ Young Adult in Your Life: The questions you have and the answers you need when someone comes out to you.
What now? If someone has decided to "come out" to you, you are an important, trusted person in their life. Honor that trust by listening, being respectful and being honest.
What does it mean to be lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer? Being gay or lesbian means that one is attracted to a member of the same gender; those who are bisexual feel an attraction to both genders. The distinction between gay and straight is only that the beauty is found in someone physically similar rather than physically different. Socially, being gay, lesbian or bisexual can have many negative consequences because of the lack of equality in the way state and federal laws treat LGBT individuals and couples. However, this does not mean that an LGBTQ+ person cannot live a full, healthy, happy life. Support from those we love is a big part of that.
Why is my friend or loved one gay? Gender identity and sexuality are not the result of home life, school life, TV shows, or any other outside influence. It is not a choice. It is not a teenage or young adult "phase." It is a natural human characteristic that should be honored and respected.
Is my loved one or friend different now? No. The person who came out to you is the same exciting, great person they have always been. Your friend or loved one may appear to dress or behave differently around you. This is probably a reflection of the opportunity to be themselves around you, not a change in them.
Will my friend hit on me? Probably not. LGBTQ+ people are aware of and respect boundaries just like any other person. However, if this is a concern, talk to your friend. Honest friendships survive.
Aren't they having sex all the time? No. Sexual orientation should not be confused with sexual intimacy. LGBTQ+ people are not having any more sex than straight people are and seek healthy, multifaceted relationships. For all individuals, healthy relationships are built on strong interpersonal connections.
Why am I uncomfortable with his/her sexuality/gender identity? Your faith, your beliefs about gender, or simply what you have been taught throughout your life may leave you feeling uncomfortable about this subject. But your lack of comfort need not be permanent. Spending time with LGBTQ+ people other than with or without your friend or loved one often leads to a realization that we are more similar than different.
I've accepted it, but why must they flaunt it? If by "flaunting" you mean wearing LGBTQ+ clothing or jewelry, public displays of affection, talking openly about LGBTQ+ interests/relationships, and participating in LGBTQ+ pride activities, you are actually uncomfortable with displays of Pride. It is unfair to ask an LGBTQ+ person to not be proud of who they are in public as well as in private.
Does it matter what I say? Yes. The language you use, including gender pronouns, is a significant way to show respect for all LGBTQ+ people. "Gay," "lesbian," and "bisexual" are all appropriate references to those who are not heterosexual (straight). “Transgender” is an appropriate term for someone who expresses their gender differently from their sex assigned at birth. Some LGBTQ+ people may use "queer," "fag," or "dyke" as words of pride, but your use of those words may be offensive. NEVER use "gay" to mean something that is stupid, nasty, or disgusting. If you are unsure of how to address a person (he, she, ze, they, etc), just ask.
Why did they have to tell me? Keeping a secret from someone you love can be very difficult and damaging to the relationship. Your friend or loved one came out to you because they value your presence in their life.
Why didn't they tell me before? LGBTQ+ people often have to accept themselves before they can ask someone else to accept them. It is the prerogative of every person to decide when it is safe to be honest with others. This decision is not always a reflection of you our your relationship with the person.
What about family, friends, or neighbors? Now that you know, realize that your friend or loved one may not have told the rest of the world. Allow them to decide who to tell and when. Be aware of who may be listening when having public conversations, so as not to betray your friend's confidence. If you are concerned for your friend or loved one's physical safety, please find a responsible adult to assist.
Is my friend or loved one at risk for HIV/AIDS/STIs? Anyone who engages in unsafe sexual practices is at risk for infection with the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. It is not a "gay disease." Equitas Health has great resources for information on sexual responsibility and safer sex practices.
What about having a family? Many LGBTQ+ people want children and have them, both with and without a partner. Of course, marriage and other forms of inequality in state and federal laws often make family formation and growth difficult. Still, there are hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ families in our country.
Should my friend or loved one get counseling? Counseling may be a good option for people to get support in dealing with a variety of issues life presents. But therapy is not needed just because someone is LGBTQ+ or to "change" or "fix" a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
How can I support my friend or loved one? Become an Ally! Allies are people who support the LGBTQ+ people in their lives and the LGBTQ+ community at large through their words and actions. You could also become a member of a support group like your school's Genders and Sexualities Alliance clubs or PFLAG. Above all, LOVE the LGBTQ+ person in your life.