How Can I Support My Friends?
It may begin with "I need to talk to you" or could be said in an outburst of tears. Unless you were expecting the words, "I'm gay" or "I'm bisexual" from your friend, you are probably in a state of shock. Your friend is having a hard time as it is, and you're not quite sure what to say. It could take time, but you will find out that the person you knew is still there: you just know more. What do you do when you first find out your friend is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?
If your friend has decided to "come out" to you, you have obviously earned a high level of trust. If you can, stay and listen. If you can, thank your friend for the honesty. Still, you must be honest to your own gut reaction. You may be afraid. You may be shocked. You may be confused. All of these reactions are ones your LGBT friend has experienced.
It has taken your friend time to come to terms with his own response, so it is likely that he will give you time to come to terms with yours. Be honest in telling your friend that you need time, but if you can, stay and listen. What does it mean to be gay? The question "what does it mean to be straight?" can be asked just the same. Technically, to be gay or lesbian means that one is attracted to a member of the same gender; those who are bisexual feel an attraction to both genders. The distinction between gay and straight is only that the beauty is found in someone physically similar rather than physically different. Love remains pure no matter the match.
Why is my friend gay?
No one made your friend gay. It is not the result of home life, school life, TV shows, anything. Your friend did not request to be "gay" on some menu at the beginning of life anymore than she chose specific eye color or height. If your friend has chosen to "come out," know that she is sure and in no way "going through a phase." Is my friend different now? Yes and no. Your friend is the same exciting, great person he has always been. At the same time, your friend now probably feels more comfortable being himself. Depending on how many people know, tension may still exist for your friend and for you as you join in "keeping the secret." But your friend is to the core still the person you have always known.
Does she want to date me?
Will he hit on me? These are reasonable questions, but they are unfounded fears. In no way are LGBT persons trying to "recruit." In fact, thanks to homophobia, your LGBT friend is very aware of not crossing boundaries. Also, infrequently straight people are attracted to gay people, and the reverse is true as well. However, if this is a concern, talk to your friend. Honest friendships survive. Aren't they having sex all the time? No. Just because we are discussing sexual orientation does not mean that sexual intimacy is the subject. LGBT persons are not having any more sex than straight persons are. For all individuals, healthy relationships are built on strong personal connections.
Why am I uncomfortable with his/her sexuality?
Society keeps homosexuality a constant topic, whether in religious institutions, schools, or politics. While American society is progressing towards acceptance, we often hear the fears loudest. Without neutral territory to look at our beliefs, it is difficult to separate facts from fears. It may help to learn what you can independently to gain some comfort. I've accepted it, but why must they flaunt it? "Flaunting" can include wearing LGBT clothing or jewelry, public displays of affection, talking openly about LGBT interests/relationships, and participating in LGBT pride activities. Remember that your friend has been "closeted," literally hiding and shaming a part of who she is. Now your friend can celebrate the joys of life as you have - holding a loved one's hand or talking about a potential date. Your friend has also joined a community that has a rough road to membership; open participation in LGBT pride activities honors her journey.
In addition to sticks and stones, names do hurt. "Gay," "lesbian," and "bisexual" are all appropriate references to those who are not heterosexual (straight). Transgender is an appropriate term for someone who expresses their gender differently from their birth sex. Some LGBT people may use "queer," "fag," or "dyke" as words of pride. It is best to be cautious with its use. Be aware of your environment and the potential implications of your speech. In many places "gay" is used to mean something that is stupid, nasty, or disgusting. No matter how many people use it, it is still offensive and hateful.
What we say does matter. Asking people not to use those words in a hateful manner is important. Why did he/ she have to tell us? Secrets are no fun. Secrets hurt people! Ok, so it's not that simple. The fact is that now is time for your friend to be honest with himself. To continue to hide from friends only makes life harder. No one wants the friendship to change, but silence will keep you apart.
Why didn't he/she tell us before?
Although secrets are no fun, sometimes they are helpful. Your friend has had to come to terms with her beliefs and fears. Your friend has had to accept herself before sharing with others. Above all, it is your friend's life and right to decide when it is safe to be honest with others. This decision comes in its own time but does not mean that you have not been trusted.
What about family, friends, or neighbors?
Now that you know, realize that your friend may not have told the rest of the world. It is your friend's decision to tell anyone else. This is not gossip to spread or news for the neighborhood. Find out whom your friend has told. Be aware of who may be listening when having public conversations, so as not to betray your friend's confidence. If you are concerned for your friend's physical safety, please find a responsible adult to assist.
Is my friend at risk for HIV/AIDS?
Anyone who engages in unsafe sexual practices is at risk for infection with the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. It is not a "gay disease." No matter the gender of your sexual partner, there is always a risk. Consult parents, physicians, or counselors for information on sexual responsibility and safer sex practices.
Will they have a family?
Families are people who share a lifetime bond no matter the trials or tribulations. Civil unions or domestic partnerships and legalized marriages (in some U.S. states)and in countries outside the United States do exist. Adoption is one of the many options for same sex couples to have children.
Should my friend get counseling? Counseling may be a good option for people to get support in dealing with a variety of issues life presents. Therapy is not needed to "change" or "fix" a person's sexual orientation. Your friend may need help with others' reactions. If you are concerned for your friend's physical safety, please find a responsible adult to assist.
How can I support my friend? Stay and listen. Talk to your friend about what would be helpful ways to be supportive. Take the time you need to address your own beliefs and discomforts. Becoming a member of a gay/straight alliance may strengthen your friendship and understanding of each other. Reading this page is a great first step! Resources, PFLAG - Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Persons