Supporting LGBT Young People to Come Out

The thought of a young person ‘coming out’ as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to you may seem daunting but there are some key pointers which can help you provide effective support.

1. Be non-judgmental in your approach - An LGBT young person is likely to have worried about coming out and has imagined a disapproving response from you. It’s important to be non-judgemental in your approach otherwise it can have a negative impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

2. Make sure you are calm and don’t panic – Young people will know if you are feeling uncomfortable and will sense any anxiety you have. Ensure you’re body language is open and be aware of your facial expressions.

3. Listen to what they telling you and don’t make assumptions - Take time to actively listen and ensure you don’t make assumptions - every case is different. Not all LGBT young people are in immediate danger or want to talk to you about sex. Some young people may simply have feeling related to same-sex attraction or their gender but do not identify as LGB or T or feel ready to.

4. Ask reflective and open questions - Exploring the young person’s disclosure with open questions can help them open up and allow you to find out what they need from you.

5. Give them positive feedback and thank them - Remember that you could be the first person they have ever told about this and having them confide in you is a huge privilege – praise their courage in talking with you.

6. Reassure them - Reinforce that being LGBT is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. It is important that you do not add to any negative feelings that the young person might have by being anything other than positive and reassuring.

7. Be honest about what don’t know - LGBT young people don’t usually expect you to have all the answers. If they have questions that you can’t answer then let them know that you’ll to get back to them at a later date.

8. Discuss confidentiality - There is some information that you are duty bound to tell. Remember that sexual orientation and gender identity on its own are not child protection concerns or areas of risk. If there are issues of concern that you feel you do need to tell others about it’s important to inform young people who you will tell and why and listen to their concerns.

9. Refer young people to appropriate services/ provide additional info - It can be useful to be equipped with relevant and up-to-date information about organisations, websites and resources which provide information and support to LGBT young people. If you don’t have this information to hand then get back to them once you find out about services in your area.

Useful Phrases

• Thanks for telling me that. Do you want to tell me a little bit more about what’s going on for you?

• Are you aware of our confidentiality policy?

• I’m really glad that you felt able to tell me that. Talking about personal things is sometimes difficult so it’s a really brave thing that you’ve done.

• So how are you feeling about all of this?

• You do know that what you’re feeling is totally normal? Lots of young people are LGBT.

• What do you want to happen next?

• Is there anything else I can do to support you?

• Would you like additional support or information?

What not to say?

Below are a few examples of what LGBT young people would prefer adults and professionals did not to say in regards to their support and advice or when they ‘come-out’.

It’s just a phase

Well, maybe – but maybe not? Identifying as LGB or T will not be something that the young person has just dreamed up on the day they tell you – they are likely to have spent some time thinking and worrying about it. Casually suggesting that it might be a passing phase will diminish its importance to them at a time when it probably feels very important indeed.

When did you decide that you were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?

Sexual orientations and gender identities are innate parts of who people are. LGBT young people are unlikely to see these as decisions or choices that they have made, especially if they are experiencing bullying as a result. Deciding on something implies taking responsibility for it, and no young person is responsible for the bullying which they experience. Consider it this way: When do heterosexual people decide that they are heterosexual?

Don’t worry we know you’re not gay!

Yes young people can be bullied because they’re perceived to be gay when they aren’t. However young people can stay silent for years about their sexual orientation or gender identity – this type of comment will only result in them being silent for longer. Instead use this as an opportunity to be clear on the unacceptability of homophobic behaviour and without question, the acceptability of identifying as LGBT.

Do you think if you were less obvious you wouldn’t get bullied?

Is it acceptable to have to hide who you are? Some young people are ‘out’ as LGB or T at schools and youth groups. Others may challenge gender roles and gender norms and are therefore labelled as gay. Being openly LGBT or challenging gender norms may well put young people at risk of bullying and being less ‘obvious’ may minimise this. However, a suggestion like this implies that the bullying is the young person’s fault because of acting or dressing or being a particular way.

The thought of a young person ‘coming out’ as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to you may seem daunting but there are some key pointers which can help you provide effective support.