How To Support A Friend Who Is Coming Out: 13 Ways To Be a Good Straight Ally

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 8: A lesbian couple hold hands during the annual Gay Pride rally, on June 8, 2007 Tel Aviv, Israel's most cosmopolitan city. Thousands of alternative lifestyle Israelis took advantage of the mild summer weather to celebrate sexual freedom amidst calls from Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders to ban a similar rally in Jerusalem later this month. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
Source: David Silverman/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Your mate's said she "needs to talk." She takes a deep breath and tells you the news: She's gay.  So ... what happens next?  There are plenty of resources out there for LGBT people on how to come out and why. But if you're straight, it can be harder to know how to support a friend who's coming out as a member of the LGBT community — no matter how gay-friendly you are. So this Pride Month, here's how you can help support a friend who's coming out. After all, you'd make an awesome straight ally, don't you think?

Make the news as big or as small a deal as they need

If your friend drops the news that they're gay casually into conversation and appears to want to minimize fuss, now is not the time to scream, draw attention to it, or throw them a party (however much you might like to). An "Oh, really? Cool." is all that might be required or appreciated. Follow their cues here. This is their moment, not yours.

Alternatively, if they've clearly gone through a huge process to get to this point and have made a big deal of telling you, some fuss and celebration may be in order. 

Listen

A lot of support during the coming-out process isn't about thrusting LGBT pamphlets on your friend, or introducing them to new lesbian friends, or telling them about the great gay bar you once went to. It's about letting them express how they're feeling and what the experience is like. Being a good friend to a person at a vulnerable time of their life, even if it's not an experience you understand, is completely possible.

Don't focus on yourself

This is not the time to tell them about your amazing uncle Ben who came out in the '80s and has had a delightful husband for twenty years.  If they ask about the gay people in your life, go ahead and tell them — but until then, keep your trap shut.

Don't make stupid jokes to diffuse

This is also not the time to ream them out for not telling you beforehand or anything else insensitive to the moment.

Be respectful

Remember to keep your social boundaries in check.  Excited or curious enquiries about their love life, sex life, how their family reacted, and other intensely private things are no-nos. You might be curious, but if it wouldn't be cool for straight friends, it's not cool now, either.

Manage your shock (or lack thereof)

If you are completely floored and flabbergasted, or if you've known for 10 years and are feeling smugly vindicated, stow it. Try to avoid gaping like you've just discovered a new species, or making 'I knew it' remarks.  

Be honored

You've been involved in the intimate details of this person's identity and personal life, at a massive and sometimes very scary time. That's a huge honor. Thank them for it.

Ask them about their journey

If they want to talk about how they got to this point, ask sensitive questions, like 'So how are you feeling?', or 'How long have you known?' Questions like 'When did you turn gay?' and 'Why?' are off the table, for what should be obvious reasons.

Be their straight wingman

If they're terrified about exploring certain aspects of gay life, like going to an LGBT meeting or a Pride parade, offer to go with them as a straight ally. There are, obviously, certain bits you can't help with, but a friend at their side encouraging them might be what they need.

Don't mistake inexperience with confusion

Even if you know for a fact that they haven't had experience with the opposite sex, or the same sex, or both, do NOT use this as a reason for telling them that they might be confused. Determining whether you like girls or boys is not based on empirical evidence. 

Validate their identity

Make sure you know the correct terminology. Gay, lesbian, queer, bi, asexual, nothing in particular: there are a whole heap of labels out there, and making sure you know the right one for them — as chosen by them — is a good way to be supportive.

Ask what level of openness they'd like

This is a huge part of support: keeping the information within their comfort zone. Do not tell people you haven't been authorized to tell. It's rude, and can also, unfortunately, be dangerous.

Offer resources (if they ask for some)

If they seem to be struggling, have some resources on hand — on-campus LGBT collectives, help lines, online support communities, even TV shows — that they might appreciate.  Use your judgement on this one, though, and don't force that rainbow flyer down their throat.

(Oh, and one last thing — if you're feeling confused about your identity yourself, now is not the time to hit on them. Seriously.)

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