What to do when someone comes out to you

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Thank them, first and foremost.

Say, “Thank you for your courage and for trusting me.” For some, coming out – declaring one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity — is as easy as breathing. For others, a brief moment follows weeks or even months of antagonising about how you would react. Reassure them that they were right to choose to trust you.

Ask, “What I can do to help?” The decision to come out is not an isolated event. There may be mitigating or instigating circumstances. A quarrel with a family member, for example, or being fed up with homophobic acquaintances. You may not have the skills to help them now. But you can, if necessary, refer them to your college Welfare team, your common room’s LGBTQ+ representative(s), the Rainbow Peers, the University Counselling Services, or listening ears at the LGBTQ+ Society and the Student Union LGBTQ+ Campaign. Let them know that there are people in Oxford who care and who are more than willing to help.

“Coming out can be terrifying, but it does not have to be.”

Do not gossip about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. For many, being part of the LGBTQ+ community is sensitive information because of the discrimination and abuse that we face. If you betray their trust by gossiping, you will hurt their feelings in the short-run and also hurt their confidence and ability to come out to others in the future.

Do not assume that they are completely out of the closet. Coming out is a continuous process, not a single event. Living in a cis- and heteronormative society, we come out again and again and again throughout our lives, even when confident and proud of our identities. We may be out to friends but not tutors, out to strangers in clubs but not family members, out to our pets but not neighbours. And so on; it will vary from person to person. So, check with them about which social contexts they are out or closeted in, rather than assume.

Coming out can be terrifying, but it does not have to be. You can do much in easing the process for someone. In doing so, you also develop a closer friendship with them.