When someone close to you comes out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, you may experience a wide range of emotions. These emotions could include happiness and excitement for your friend's or loved one's decision to open up, confusion and shock at something you didn't expect to find out, or even fear or anger toward the person for not sharing this sooner. Regardless of your initial reaction, it's important to move toward understanding and acceptance, especially if you want to remain close to this person.
If someone close to you has recently come out, it's important that you understand what that means and get rid of any stereotypes you may have about the LGBT community. People in the LGBT community are as individual as everyone else - they don't all dress, act or talk a certain way. There are several online resources that provide definitions for each of these terms - lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - as well as several other definitions relevant to the LGBT community. Take the time to seek out information, so that you are not reacting based on misinformation or stereotypes.
In addition, if your best friend, a co-worker or someone close to you admits that he or she is gay or lesbian, it does not mean that this person is automatically attracted to you. Do not jump to any false conclusions about your relationship with this person. If you were just friends to begin with, assume that's how your relationship will continue. Also, coming out does not mean that your friend or loved one will suddenly start dressing or acting differently.
Another common misconception that many people have is that people in the LGBT community "choose" their lifestyle and that with counseling or some guidance, they could change. There is no firm scientific evidence on how sexual orientation is determined, and most people don't feel their sexuality is a matter of choice. Regardless, a person's sexual orientation is a very personal and private matter, generally open to discussion with only the closest friends or relatives. What is important is whether your friend's life is happy and fulfilling.
Treat your friend or loved one the same as you always have
The most important thing to remember when someone you care about comes out to you is that nothing significant has changed. Your emotions may tell you something different, but this is the same person you've always known. All the things you enjoyed about this person - a sense of humor, kindness and trustworthiness- all these qualities still exist.
There are a lot of slang terms and language that can be offensive to members of the LGBT community. Even if certain expressions are commonly used in your friend group or family, try to be respectful of your friend's wishes and ask first if you aren't sure if something is offensive or not.
When someone close to you comes out, it is not the time to launch into a religious or political debate about your feelings regarding the LGBT community - especially if you have negative feelings. You are entitled to your own opinions and feelings, but try to be respectful of this person's decision to come out to you. Listen to what he or she has to say and keep an open mind.
It's also a good idea to ask your friend or loved one about confidentiality. Is this person telling everyone or just a few, select people? Reassure your friend or loved one that you will not share the news with anyone without permission and that you can be trusted.
Consider your friend's or loved one's feelings
Coming out may be a very difficult and emotional time for your friend or loved one. It always carries the risk of rejection, discrimination or ridicule. So although the news may be hard for you to digest or accept, think about how hard it may have been for this person to come out to you. The fact that your friend or loved one wanted to share this with you shows that this person values your relationship and wants to be open and honest with you.
Figure out how to move forward
If possible, focus on how glad you are that your friend or loved one shared this with you and express your support. Letting your friend or loved one know that you are still going to be there may be a welcome relief. But be honest too. If you are still confused or surprised, share this with your friend or loved one and tell him or her that it may take some time for you to fully process what you've been told.
If you are struggling to reconcile your religious beliefs with your friend's or loved one's coming out, or if you feel like you want to speak to someone about how you're feeling, consider seeking a counselor or a support group in your community. Military OneSource counselors are available to speak to you, confidentially, over the phone (800-342-9647), online or face to face at on a range of topics including stress management, parenting and communication issues.
Whatever your reaction, keep in mind that this person is the same person that you've always known and cared about.