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The prospect of coming out, of revealing one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity, can be a daunting one in any given situation. There is always a risk that the person they choose to tell may react negatively. The following information may help people who are not lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender understand some of the concerns that people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender have.
Many people in our society have been taught to fear, despise, or hate people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. All of us have been exposed to a vast amount of negative, derogatory, and inaccurate information about people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. When someone comes out to you, they share the information about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with a keen awareness of the risks involved: the risk of losing their relationship with you, the risk of being rejected, the risk of being misunderstood, and many other risks. Unless you have given some indication for your feelings or beliefs about sexual orientation and/or gender identity, they may have no way of knowing in advance whether your reaction will be positive or negative.
When someone comes out to you, the news may come as a total surprise, you may have already considered the possibility that this person might be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender, or it may not be important to you one way or the other.
The way in which a person who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender chooses to come out to others often reflects how they feel about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The more positive responses the person receives to their news, the more comfortable they will feel with their identity, and the easier it will become for them to come out to others in the future. How you react to their disclosure of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity can help them out of the closet – or keep them in.
Remember that the person has not changed. They are still the same person you knew before, you just have more information about them than you did before. If you are shocked, don’t let the shock lead you to view the person as suddenly different. Don’t ask questions that would have been considered rude within the relationship before their disclosure. If you would like more information, ask in an honest and respectful way. If you show a genuine and respectful interest in their life, they will most likely appreciate it. Some good questions to ask are:
Don’t assume in advance that you know what it means for her or him to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. Every person’s experience is different and unique. They may not want you to necessarily do anything. They may just need someone to listen. Consider it an honor that they have trusted you with this very personal information. Thank them for trusting you.
Clarify with them what level of confidentiality they expect from you. They may not want you to tell anyone at all. They may be out to others and not be concerned with who finds out. If you don’t understand something or have questions, remember that persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender often are willing to help you understand their life experiences. If you find yourself reacting negatively, remember that your feelings may change. Try to leave the door open for future communication.
Taken from the Northern Illinois University Ally Program Volunteer Handbook
In a residence hall environment, we interact daily with a wide variety of people. Statistics have shown that at least 10% of the general population consider themselves to be lesbian or gay, and many more consider themselves to be bisexual. It is very likely that you will meet individuals who are queer in some way during your time at the University of Utah. This page was developed to hopefully answer some of the questions you may have. Remember, you may ask these questions of your Residence Life staff as well.
One of the worst forms of oppression for a human being is to be denied emotional expression. It is called "expressing love" when heterosexuals hold hands, but "flaunting" when queer people or bisexuals express their love. How would heterosexuals react if they could not hold hands, kiss, dance together, go to romantic dinners, or talk about their family? Queer people who are open with their affections are not trying to shock others, but are motivated by similar things as heterosexual/cisgender people are.
Most queer people who "come out" would like the same sincere acceptance and encouragement you might want when you tell a friend something personal about yourself. Because of many people's "homophobic/transphobic" attitude (fear and derision of queer sexualities), many queer people are afraid of rejection from their friends. You might first honestly ask yourself how you feel about this news and then discuss it as a caring friend. Some people who find out a close friend is LGBTQ+ wonder, "What does that mean about me?" This can be a natural reaction. What it probably means is that your friend trusts you very much. However, liking someone queer does not make you queer any more than liking someone smart makes you smart.
There is a big difference between "coming out" and "coming on." As discussed above, most queer people who come out want to be accepted, not hassled. Sometimes a queer person might "come on" to you, tell you they are attracted to you, or want an intimate relationship with you. You can handle it in the same manner that you would handle an approach from someone of the opposite sex. Queer relationships are as serious and legitimate as cisgender ones. Again, you should discuss it with your friend.
A formerly taboo subject will be out in the open. You may feel uncomfortable from a lack of experience dealing with queer people who are not "closeted." Visits by queer people 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 queer. Hir best friends may be straight or cisgender.
Defending queer 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 heterosexual or cisgender friends and allies in defense or support of queer people can go a long way to help change people's minds.
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 queer all along! Bear in mind that queer people are not always comfortable around all people, either. Queer people, just like heterosexual/cisgender people, are attracted to certain types of people.
This information was developed and published by the University of Georgia Residence Life Staff and adapted from a brochure from Ohio State University.