Below you'll find information about coming out. If you're looking for support because you would like to come out, have recently come out, or think you might be LGBTQ you may want to take a look at the Tang Center's Pride Portal, a comprehensive guide to services for LGBTQ students! Or, if you're looking more for information about how to connect with other LGBTQ individuals check out the LGBTQ Resources On-Campus Organizations page, or stop by GenEq to stop with a staff person about how to get connected!
Click on one of these links to jump to a particular section, or just scroll down!
- What is "coming out"?
- Why come out?
- How does one come out?
- Who does one come out to?
- Coming out to your children.
- Coming out to your health care provider.
- Coming out in the military.
- When a friend or family member comes out to you.
- National Coming Out Day.
- After you come out.
- Other coming out resources.
1. What is "coming out?"
Coming out is a life long process of understanding, accepting, and acknowledging your identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+ (LGBTQ+) or a combination of these identities. Coming out includes both exploring your identity and sharing that identity with others. The first person you have to come out to is yourself. Coming out happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Because we live in a society that assumes that everyone is straight and cisgender, a LGBTQ person is never done coming out. Coming out is NOT “flaunting.” Instead, it is simply making people aware of an important part of you.
2. Why come out?
First off, to be true to yourself and your feelings - ignoring or denying your feelings or truths can take its toll on your mental and emotional health and/or can take a lot of energy away from focusing on other things in your life. Other reasons that people have for coming out include increasing visibility of LGBTQ people, educating people who assume that everyone is straight and cisgender, and letting your friends and family get to know another part of you. Coming out lets others know that LGBTQ people exist around them; we are to a large extent an "invisible minority."
3. How does one come out?
Some ways to come out:
- Take someone aside to tell them. If you choose to pull people aside and tell them, it is recommended that you ask yourself the following: “Who is the most open-minded and caring person I know who is also the least likely to be shocked, threatened or put off?’” This might be a friend, a relative or a teacher. Tell them you've come to them because you trust them. Try not to come out when one of you is in a hurry, emotionally distraught, distracted, or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
- Write a letter. This gives the person you are coming out to time to react in their own way. This is probably a better approach if, for example, you live a long way from your family or friends. Writing a letter allows you to take your time and to compose your thoughts carefully and clearly. It can also give the person you are writing to space to react and consider the news before discussing it with you. This could be a useful approach if you are expecting a very hostile or negative reaction.
- Start living your life openly. Just start bringing your partner to events or start wearing the clothing that most fits your gender identity.
Some tips on coming out:
- Don't let anyone pressure you into 'coming out'. It's your life; it's your decision; it's your choice. You don't have to come out.
- Only tell someone who might react strongly if you have enough support to cope with their reaction.
- Think about what you want to say and choose the time and place carefully.
- Be aware of what the other person is going through. The best time for you might not be the best time for the person you are coming out to.
- Present yourself honestly and remind the other person that you are the same individual you were yesterday.
- If you are having doubts or if you're feeling depressed or guilty, it may be best to get some support first, perhaps from a counselor or hotline.
- Be prepared for an initially negative reaction from some people. Do not forget that it took time for you to come to terms with your LGBTQ identity, and that it is important to give others the time they need. If you need your parents' financial and emotional support and are really scared they would "cut you off" if you came out, then wait until you can tell them with less fear and anxiety, or when you are financially independent.
- Be sure you have people to support you if a coming out conversation goes poorly.
- Be careful not to let your self-esteem depend entirely on the approval of others. If a person rejects you and refuses to try to work on acceptance, that’s not your fault. If time does not seem to change the individual’s attitude toward you, then you may want to re-evaluate your relationship and its importance to you. Remember that you have the right to be who you are, you have the right to be out and open about all important aspects of your identity including your sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and in no case is another person’s rejection evidence of your lack of worth or value.
- Remember that it is fine to be more out in some places than others and to come out to different people in a various ways.
- Be prepared to answer questions the people you come out to may have or to direct them to some online resources if they want more information. Be clear with yourself about how much teaching you can do so you can be clear with others about how much you can support their learning process, and when they need to be self-directed in their learning process. You can also offer them pamphlets or books, which we can recommend to you at GenEq.
- Explain why you are coming out so that they can understand why this is important to you.
- Be prepared that once you start to tell people, others might find out pretty quickly.
- Don't come out during an argument. Don't use your sexuality or gender identity as a weapon to hurt or shock someone else. Also, don't do it when you've been drinking alcohol or using any other substance.
- Remember to listen to what the person you are coming out to has to say also, especially if they are a close friend or family member.
- Celebrate your coming out – it’s a huge step!
- If you are young and live with your parents and they pay for you to live (e.g. food, clothes, schooling) and you think they might "kick you out" of the home or reject you, it may be best to choose not to come out just now. Wait until you are sure they'll be supportive or until you are old enough to look after yourself. If you can't wait, be sure you have someone to support you and somewhere to go in case they react badly.
- If you are working or living in a place where your sexual orientation and/or gender identity could put you at risk either of violence or discrimination in the job, it may be worth checking out laws and policies that protect your rights. Do you have the support to fight for your rights?
4. Who does one come out to?
You can choose to just come out to yourself. Other people you might come out to include friends, family, and people at work and/or at school. You may choose to come out in anonymous online forums first because of the relative safety of coming out when your name is not attached to your story. You can choose to come out to a broader audience by posting on Facebook; sending a mass email; displaying a flag, button, bumper sticker or patch that declares your LGBTQ identity; or by becoming involved in LGBTQ organizations.
5. Coming out to your children.
You (and, potentially, your partner) need to make a judgment about whether and when to tell your children. Here are some helpful hints:
- Tell your children in a private space where the conversation will be entirely confidential.
- Allow for plenty of time to continue the conversation over the next few days and weeks — and years.
- Explain your sexuality or gender shift in an age-appropriate way for children.
- Reassure your children that you love them and that they are your top priority.
- Connect them with other children of LGBTQ parents. Let them know that they are part of a caring community.
- Check-out COLAGE – Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere - http://www.colage.org/
6. Coming out to your health care provider.
Being honest about your sexual orientation or gender identity can be a matter of life and death — or, at a minimum, essential to getting effective care and treatment. Some of the people who may most need to know the truth about your sexual orientation or gender identity are your health care providers. Coming out to them can be hard, however, because inaccurate information exists across the medical community about the treatment of LGBTQ patients. Similarly, if you have a therapist, make sure the therapist is knowledgeable about issues facing LGBTQ people. If you are not ready to come out to your own health care provider, perhaps you would feel more comfortable talking with a LGBTQ-friendly one. Please see our Health & Counseling resources page.
7. Coming out in the military or ROTC.
If you are a member of the U.S. military, you can no longer lose your job if you come out as lesbian, gay, bisxual, transgender or queer. Contact the Service Members Legal Defense Network on the web at www.sldn.org if you have questions or concerns.
8. When a friend, family member, or roommate comes out to you.
When a friend or family member 'Comes Out' for the first time.
We live in a society that discriminates against people who are different. We have all been taught to believe that to be straight as well as cisgender is to be normal. “Coming out,” or disclosing their orientation/identity to others is an important step in LGBTQ people’s self-acceptance.
If someone chooses you as one of the first people to come out to then they must feel close to you and trust you to a significant degree. It is difficult to know what to say and do to be a supportive friend to someone who has come out to you. Below are some suggestions you may wish to follow.
During the 'coming out' conversation:
- Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you.
- Respect your friend’s confidentiality.
- Tell your friend you still care about them, no matter what. The main fear for people coming out is rejection.
- Ask any questions you may have, but understand that your friend may not have all the answers, or may prefer that you educate yourself about basic information online.
- Don’t judge your friend. If you have strong religious or other beliefs about LGBTQ identities, keep them to yourself for now. There will be plenty of time in the future for you to think and talk about your beliefs in light of your friend’s identity.
- Don’t be too serious. Sensitivity worded in humor may ease the tension you are both probably feeling.
Now that you know that your friend/family member is LGBTQ:
- Include your friend’s partner in plans as much as you would any other friend.
- Be prepared to include your friend in more of your plans. They may have lost support of other friends and family, and your time and friendship will be even more precious to them.
- Don’t out your friend to others without their permission.
- Offer and be available to support your friend as they come out to others.
- Be aware that this is a highly emotional time for your friend.
- Do the same activities that you have always done together.
- Don’t allow your friend to become more isolated. Ask them if they would like to know about organizations and places where they can meet other LGBTQ people or supportive allies.
- If your friend has attractions or feelings for you that you don’t share, you can handle it in the same way as if anyone you aren’t attracted to had feelings for you.
- If your friend seems afraid about other people knowing, there may be good reason. People are sometimes disowned from families, or attacked violently because they are perceived as LGBTQ. Sometimes people are discriminated against in such things as housing and employment. If your friend is discriminated against illegally, you can help them in pursuing their rights.
- 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.
- Learn more about the LGBTQ community. This will allow you to better support your friend, and knowing about an important part of their identity will help prevent you from drifting apart.
When a roommate 'Comes Out' for the first time.
- If my roommate "comes out" to me as LGBQ, does that mean that they think that I'm LGBQ too? Is it a proposition for sex?
There is a big difference between "coming out" and "coming on." As discussed above, most LGBTQ people who come out want to be accepted, not hassled. Sometimes an LGBQ person might tell you they are attracted to you. You can handle it in the same way as if anyone you aren’t attracted to had feelings for you.
- If I accept my LGBTQ roommate, will they bring in lots of LGBTQ friends and push me out?
A formerly taboo subject will be out in the open. You may feel uncomfortable from a lack of experience dealing with LGBTQ people who are not "closeted." The LGBTQ friends should respect non-LGBTQ people just as LGBTQ people expect to be respected. Visits by LGBTQ folks are a good opportunity to learn about this large and diverse segment of the population. However, be cautious about presuming that all your roommate's friends are LGBTQ. LGBTQ people usually have both friends who are LGBTQ and who are not.
- Now that I know my roommate is LGBTQ, I don't feel comfortable about nudity, dressing, showering, etc.
More than likely, you have been living together long enough to trust each other. There is no reason for the trust to diminish now. Your roommate has been LGBTQ all along.
- Won't my friends or parents think I'm LGBTQ if I have a LGBTQ roommate or friend or defend equal rights for LGBTQ people?
Defending equal rights for LGBTQ people is often a courageous stance to take. Some people may conclude that such a person has a vested interest to do so. It is up to you whether you feel that the people you are defending are worth the risk of occasional accusations or assumptions by others. Remember that a word from LGBTQ Allies in defense or support of LGBTQ rights can go a long way to help change people's minds.
This information on roommates and coming out was developed and published by the University of Georgia Residence Life Staff and adapted from a brochure from Ohio State.
9. National coming out day.
Every October 11th is National Coming Out Day. Many people choose this day to come out to people around them, or re-affirm their identities publicly. Those already out may also use this day as a time of celebration and activism.
10. After you come out.
How to meet people
Go out with friends to meet new ones at places such as clubs, parties, and cafes. Join a campus group or a group at the Pacific Center. Volunteer at a LGBTQ center or organization.
For faculty and staff, sign the out list
This list of out people on campus helps to increase visibility of LGBTQ people on campus!
11. Other coming out resources.
HRC’s Resource Guide to Coming Out is a good resource, or do an online search for more resources on “coming out”.