“Coming out” is when a person tells someone else that he or she is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Someone who is coming out feels close enough to you and trusts you enough to be honest and risk losing you as a friend or rabbi. If a congregant or student, child or friend tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual , or transgender, they may look to you, their teacher or religious leader, for guidance. They are taking a huge step, have and are most likely concerned about losing you, their community, family and friends.
How To Offer Support
Here are some suggestions that you may wish to consider:
- Thank them for having the courage to tell you. Choosing to tell you indicates that they most likely respect and trust you and want to include you in their life.
- It’s okay if you feel uncomfortable or upset. You can say that you may need some time to feel comfortable but this does not mean that you are no longer his or her rabbi, teacher, friend, etc.
- Respect their confidentiality. It might take a while until he or she is ready to tell others. This should be done on their time schedule.
- The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them. So, tell them that you still care for him or her. Be the friend, father, rabbi, sister, teacher (etc.) you have always been. Make it clear that you will not reject them, forbid them from coming to shul, school or home.
- Do not say, “Are you sure?” When people come out to you, it most likely means that they have gone over this question many times in their own mind, and they may be sure. If they are not sure, they may not want you questioning them at this time. Remember, it took a lot of courage to tell you and they most likely are feeling vulnerable.
- If the person is transgender, try to support him or her by using the name and pronoun (“he,” “she,” or “ze”) they prefer. If they want a particular name and pronoun to be used by others, try to help other people to respect their desired name and pronoun.
- Don’t shy away from bringing up issues around sexual orientation or gender identity, but remember that you can still talk about the topics you always talked about, whether these are music, movies, politics, or other subjects.
- If the person is coming out to you because they need advice or support, try to learn about organizations and publications – either LGBT and/or Jewish – that would be most supportive and helpful to your friend. It might be important for your friend to know that such support exists. For a list of resources, click here.
- Don’t assume this person is attracted to you. It is a myth that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are attracted to everyone who is of the same sex.
- Don’t assume that your friend who is transgender will automatically be attracted to the same sex as the gender with which your friend identifies. For example, a friend who was raised as a girl but who identifies as a boy may be attracted to boys, girls, or both and may identify as gay, straight, or bisexual.
- It’s never too late. If someone has come out to you before and you feel badly about how you handled it, you can always go back and let them know you would like to understand their situation and try again.
Adapted for Eshel (www.eshelonline.org) from the Youth Service Bureau of Wellington, Ottawa.