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10 Ways to Be an Ally and a Friend

When a Student Comes Out to You…
and Tells You They Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender

When a student comes out to you and tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) your initial response is important. The student has likely spent time in advance thinking about whether or not to tell you, and when and how to tell you. Here are some tips to help you support them.

Offer support but don’t assume a student needs any help. The student may be completely comfortable with their sexual orientation or gender identity and may not need help dealing with it or be in need of any support. It may be that the student just wanted to tell someone, or just simply to tell you so you might know them better. Offer and be available to support your students as they come out to others.

Be a role model of acceptance. Always model good behavior by using inclusive language and setting an accepting environment by not making assumptions about people’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and by addressing other’s (adults and students) biased language and addressing stereotypes and myths about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. By demonstrating that you are respectful of LGBT people and intolerant of homophobia and transphobia, LGBT students are more likely to see you as a supportive educator.

Appreciate the student’s courage. There is often a risk in telling someone something personal, especially sharing for the first time one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, when it is generally not considered the norm. Consider someone’s coming out a gift and thank them for giving that gift to you. Sharing this personal information with you means that the student respects and trusts you.

Listen, listen, listen. One of the best ways to support a student is to hear them out and let the student know you are there to listen. Coming out is a long process, and chances are you’ll be approached again to discuss this process, the challenges and the joys of being out at school.

Assure and respect confidentiality. The student told you and may or may not be ready to tell others. Let the student know that the conversation is confidential and that you won’t share the information with anyone else, unless they ask for your help. If they want others to know, doing it in their own way with their own timing is important. Respect their privacy.

Ask questions that demonstrate understanding, acceptance and compassion. Some suggestions are:
Have you been able to tell anyone else?Has this been a secret you have had to keep from others or have you told other people?Do you feel safe in school? Supported by the adults in your life?Do you need any help of any kind? Resources or someone to listen?Have I ever offended you unknowingly?▼
Remember that the student has not changed. They are still the same person you knew before the disclosure; you just have more information about them, which might improve your relationship. Let the student know that you feel the same way about them as you always have and that they are still the same person. If you are shocked, try not to let the surprise lead you to view or treat the student any differently.

Challenge traditional norms. You may need to consider your own beliefs about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender roles. Do not expect people to conform to societal norms about gender or sexual orientation.

Be prepared to give a referral. If there are questions you can’t answer, or if the student does need some emotional support, be prepared to refer them to a sympathetic counselor, a hotline, your school’s GSA or an LGBT youth group or community center.

Some additional things to keep in mind when a student comes out to you as transgender:

Validate the person’s gender identity and expression. It is important to use the pronoun appropriate to the gender presented or that the person requests – this is showing respect. In other words, if someone identifies as female, then refer to the person as she; if they identify as male, refer to the person as he. Or use gender neutral language. Never use the word “it” when referring to a person, to do so is insulting and disrespectful.

Remember that gender identity is separate from sexual orientation. Knowing someone is transgender does not provide you with any information about their sexual orientation.

What NOT To Say When Someone Comes Out To You

“I knew it!” This makes the disclosure about you and not the student, and you might have been making an assumption based on stereotypes.

“Are you sure?” “You’re just confused.” “It’s just a phase – it will pass.” This suggests that the student doesn’t know who they are.

“You just haven’t found a good woman yet” said to a male or “a good man yet” said to a female. This assumes that everyone is straight or should be.

“Shhh, don’t tell anyone.” This implies that there is something wrong and that being LGBT must be kept hidden. If you have real reason to believe that disclosing this information will cause the student harm, then make it clear that is your concern. Say “Thanks for telling me. We should talk about how tolerant our school and community is. You may want to consider how this may affect your decision about who to come out to.”

“You can’t be gay – you’ve had relationships with people of the opposite sex.” This refers only to behavior, while sexual orientation is about inner feeling.

Ally Week is celebrated during a week in October all over the world, but being an ally doesn't stop after the week is over. 

Tweet the ways in which you continue to be an ally outside of Ally Week using #allyweek.