Top 10 Things to Say on National Coming Out Day
Originally Published: October 9, 2009
Revised: September 9, 2014
When I was 14, I had my first job at a summer camp, getting paid pennies to watch twelve children ages two to four. One of the children was a little girl with two mothers; one was her biological parent and one was the biological mother of their other child. They formed what I thought was a perfectly typical family—simply with two mothers instead of parents of two different genders. I wasn’t surprised by the parents’ relationship. One day, I happened to mention the couple and their child to my mother. My mother was shocked. In her generation (and those were the words she used: “In my generation…”), gay and lesbian relationships weren’t as common—and they weren’t approved of.
Things are changing. And in my generation, I can babysit for a same-sex couple or have friends who not only are openly gay and lesbian, but have been for the duration of their high school years. I can see more and more teens coming out as transgender and questioning rigid ideas about gender. Acceptance of different sexual orientations and gender identities is certainly more common today than in my mother’s day, but there’s always more that we can do to reduce the lingering stigma and violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
One of the ways to encourage openness and conversation about sexual orientation and gender identity is to celebrate National Coming Out Day on October 11th. This day of events is meant to encourage people to talk about LGBT equality and to openly celebrate being who they are.
At a time when states are in heated debate over legalizing same-sex marriage and protecting the rights of transgender people, I couldn’t imagine a better time to celebrate National Coming Out Day. It can be confusing and scary, figuring out whether and when to come out, but it can also feel impossible to lie, day in and day out, about who you really are. In a world we’re expected to grow up and be heterosexual and never have any questions about the gender we were assigned at birth, coming out is admirable and brave.
It isn’t easy to know what to say if a friend comes out to you, but if you’re faced with that situation, it’s important to respond in a way that’s positive and supportive. What you actually say may depend on your sexual orientation or gender identity, but generally speaking, here are the kinds of things you might consider sharing with a friend who comes out to you as LGB or T:
- Nothing. It’s fine to take a moment and take in what your friend just said before you respond, so you don’t blurt out something you don’t mean. (But eventually, you have to say something.)
- “Thanks for trusting me enough to tell me.”
- “I’m listening and here if you want to talk.”
- “It’s really great that you’re being true to who you are.”
- “Please let me know if there’s anything that I say or do that offends you. I wouldn’t want to say something that hurts you.”
- “I’m not sure what the right thing is to say, but I want to be here for you.”
- “How can I support you?”
- “Are you comfortable with other people knowing, or do you want to be the one to tell people?”
- “Have you come out to anyone else? How has that been?”
- “Cool. This doesn’t change our friendship. We’re still going to the movies Friday? Right?” Your friend is still your friend, and it’s great to let him or her know that you’ll still be hanging out and doing stuff together.
- “You’re a… [fill in the derogatory term.]?” Derogatory terms are never, ever OK to use.
- “That’s immoral.”
- “So, wait a minute. You’re transgender? So, are you a guy or a girl?”
- “You’re just confused.”
- “You can’t be gay. You’ve had different-sex relationships.”
- “Have you tried talking to someone, like a therapist? Maybe they can help you get over this.”
- “It’s probably just a phase.”
- “But you’re so pretty! Plenty of guys like you. You don’t have to be a lesbian.”
- “What? You’re gay? Does that mean you’ve been hitting on me all this time?”
- “How long have you known you were…you know?” We never ask heterosexual people how long they’ve known they were heterosexual, so why ask your friend who comes out to you as gay or lesbian?
Also keep in mind that unless your friend tells you it’s OK to share, it’s not your place to out your friend to other people. It’s a betrayal of trust and the worst kind of gossip.
If you’ve got other questions for your friend, ask in a respectful way. Your friend will appreciate you showing genuine interest in him or her. Ultimately, all your friend needs is for you to be a friend. Treat a friend who comes out to you with the same respect you’ve always shown him or her.
For more information about National Coming Out Day, visit the Human Rights Campaign.
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