It's 2017, and we can definitely say that, for the majority, we as people have made great strides in terms of humanity's acceptance of LGBTQA identities. Yet in spite of this, it is often still very difficult for community members to embrace their sexualities in the very beginning. For someone to admit to their non-heterosexual feelings and attractions is a HUGE deal. And as if it wasn't hard enough to acknowledge this internally, there's still family, friends, and virtually the whole rest of society to consider breaking the news to.
So let's say you're approached one day by a dear friend who says they've got something to say.
They're gay (or bisexual, or pansexual, or whatever!).
And as your friend's chosen confidant, you find yourself wondering, "how can I support my LGBT best friend?" If you're not too familiar with the LGBT community, you may worry that you'll accidentally offend your friend, or that you won't know how to be there for them like they need you to be. But fear not! As an LGBT community member myself, I have a few suggestions for heterosexual allies that you will hopefully find helpful:
1. Don't assume they're telling you because they MUST have feelings for you.
One of your first instincts may be to think, "oh my God, they're confessing their love for me"; that's okay as long as you don't act on this assumption. If they really haven't given you any clear indications that they're into you, you should hold back these thoughts for now. After all, they only JUST came out to you; emotions will probably be running high for you both, so the last thing either of you need is a misunderstanding like that. Most likely, they chose to come out to you because they trust you- don't break that trust so easily with a silly fear.
2. Don't tell any of your friends - not even the mutual ones
Coming out is a very delicate process that you shouldn't get personally involved in. That is, it isn't your news to tell, so keep it to yourself. Your friend may not have gone to the others yet, or maybe they don't plan to, so it's important that you respect their wishes for privacy. If you've got the urge to share, write to yourself in your journal, or spill the beans to your favorite stuffed animal. Seriously- it's not worth wrecking a friendship over.
3. Don't ask them if they're sure.
Something a lot of people don't know is that sexuality is fluid. It can change over time depending on a given situation, or maybe just because for an individual, it's meant to change throughout their life. Either way, chances are, if someone's coming out to you, they're pretty darn sure that they've got it right. The fact that they're mentioning their sexuality at all means they've given it a lot (like A LOT) of thought already. When they come to you, it means they're ready to embrace themselves for how they realize they feel.
They might even change their minds, and say, for example, that they're not bisexual, but instead are homosexual. That's okay, too! Just let them tell you when and if they're ready to do so. Until then, trust what they're saying from the get-go.
4. Be sensitive about asking questions.
If you personally aren't part of the LGBT community, you may find some things about it a little confusing. All of these new ideas are being thrown your way and you're not quite sure how you should take them. And with your friend, in particular, you might want to ask them how they knew, or if they ever had a same-sex encounter before, or any other questions related to their sexuality. Just be sure to take care when you're questioning them. Don't be too pushy. You can be curious while still being respectful. And if you do offend them, take the time to apologize sincerely and make sure they know you didn't mean to hurt their feelings.
5. Celebrate their self-discovery - and don't make it about you.
The friend that comes out to you might have been the only person oblivious to their homo-proclivities. Maybe almost everyone else close to them was pretty certain that they were flaming gay for years. Even still, don't reply with an "I knew it!" or a "how did it take you so long to figure that out?". Discovering and coming to terms with one's own sexuality is a very, very individualized experience. It takes everyone in the community different lengths of time to figure it out! Unless your friend will definitely appreciate your humor, don't make any jokes about how they didn't know while you supposedly did all along.
6. Let them know you're here for them.
Just like you would in any other situation, give your friend a hug (or a firm, business-like handshake, or whatever you do to express your compassion) and reassure them that their coming out to you will not negatively affect your friendship. You may have some dissenting views about LGBT issues, but it's important to look at your relationship overall and decide if it's really worth it to have a social or political argument potentially destroy what you have.
Thank you for reading this article, because that means you are genuinely interested in supporting not only your LGBT friends, but the entire community as well. It warms my heart to know that we've got some really positive straight allies out there in the world. On behalf of the whole community, I thank you sincerely for your understanding.