One of the most challenging steps in coming out for GLBTIQ people is to identify themselves to heterosexuals. The fear of encountering negative, hostile, ignorant, callous, and judging reactions makes it difficult for GLBTIQ individuals to reveal their sexual orientation.  It is difficult to gauge how heterosexuals will react when someone comes out to them. In addition to the reactions stated above, heterosexual responses range from shock or disbelieve to naiveté  and clueless.  Some heterosexuals (e.g. family members, coworkers, friends) may initially reject or permanently disown GLBTIQ individuals.  In addition to personal reactions from heterosexuals, there is also fear and trepidation from GLBTIQ members regarding the legal ramifications of coming out.  For the most part, there are no legal remedies in many of areas including hiring and the law.

What Can I, As A Heterosexual, Do When A GLBTIQ Person Comes Out To Me?

Think carefully about how you will react and what you will say if a GLBTIQ person comes out to you.

  • Recognize that this is a difficult process for GLBTIQ individuals and give them your undivided attention.

  • Keep in mind that the experience of coming out is about them, not you. Thus, be an active and empathetic listener.

  • Be knowledgeable of resources on campus.

  • Don't deny their experience. It is their experience, perceptions, and emotions and just because it doesn't happen to you does not mean that they don't experience it.

  • Ask the question "How can I help?" and let them drive the process of support.

  • It is important to understand that just because they came out to you does not give you the right to "out them" to someone else. "Outing someone" can be dangerous (physically, economically, family, violence) to them.  They have to be in control of the coming out process.  

What Not to Say to a GLBTIQ Person Who Comes Out to You

  • "I suspected that you were gay!"       

  • "Are you absolutely sure and not just confused."       

  • "Wait, this doesn't mean you're into me…does it?"       

  • "When did you decide to be gay?"       

  • "Its just a phase you are going through. You'll get over it?"       

  • "Is this a lifestyle with which you are experimenting?       

  • "No, come on!"

  • "Aren't you just making things more difficult for yourself?"       

  • "You can't just give up that easily on women!" (Or men!)

  • "Look, I will personally help you find a girlfriend!)"       

  • "This is just plain wrong!" 

  • "Don't you think that counseling might help!"

Next Module: GLBTIQ People of Color