Coming out as LGBTQ - advice for adults
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Coming out as LGBTQ - advice for adults

Help and advice about coming out as LGBTQ+ for adults.

What is 'coming out'?

Telling people about your sexual orientation or gender identity is often called ‘coming out’. Coming out is not necessarily a one-off event – lesbian, gay bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace (LGBTQ+) people often have to come out many times during our lives. It's also something unique to you – people face different challenges when coming out. 

There is no ‘right’ way to come out. Some people prefer to tell everybody at once, for example by posting on social media. Others move more slowly, sharing the news with one person or group at a time. You might feel comfortable being open about your sexual orientation and gender identity only with certain groups, or you might decide that you don’t want to be ‘out’ in every context. That’s OK too. Coming out is also only a part of your LGBTQ+ journey, and while it may be an important one for many people, it doesn’t define who you are, or the ways in which you love and accept yourself.

Coming out can be difficult and takes courage. Some people will welcome the news immediately. Others might have a less positive response or take longer to adapt. It’s important to think about how you want to tell people and how the conversation might go with various people in your life. Even though coming out can be a challenge, it can also be incredibly liberating. Many people see it as the first step to living authentically as themselves.

Why come out?

Whether you've come to terms with your sexual orientation or gender identity, or you're still thinking about it, it can be difficult dealing with that on your own. You may get to a point where you need to talk about it with someone – either to get support or simply to get it off your chest. Hiding who you are from others often means lying and pretending, and that becomes exhausting after a while. It can take your focus and energy away from other important things in your life.

You might also want to come out because you think the experience will be exciting and liberating. You might want to introduce people to your partner, look for a new relationship, or simply connect with the LGBTQ+ community and other people who have the same sexual orientation or gender identity as you.

Don't feel under pressure to come out, whether that pressure’s coming from yourself or others. Take your time and trust your feelings – only you will know when you are comfortable and ready to go ahead. If you decide not to come out, that’s OK too – your sexuality or gender identity are still completely valid.

If you are ready to come out, know that there is no right or wrong time to do it. You also don’t need to find a specific reason – if you want to come out, that’s reason enough!

I want to come out, but I don’t know how to do it – can you help?

Coming out is a very personal process, but we’ve compiled a list of helpful phrases that could help get you started when having this conversation with loved ones or colleagues.

‘I’ve been thinking about my sexuality a lot recently and have realised that I’m gay. It would mean a lot if you could tell me that you still love and accept me.’

‘You’re important to me, so I want to share with you that I’m pansexual. This means I’m attracted to people regardless of their gender.’

‘Could we please have a conversation about my gender identity? I think I’m trans and would really appreciate your support with this journey.’

‘I’ve realised that I don’t feel attraction to others. I want to share with you that I’m ace.’

If you decide you want to come out, but you’re unsure how others might react, you could consider contacting a support group first. There are helplines, community groups and agencies across the country who are there to support you, for example:

Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline: 0300 330 0630 (10am-10pm daily)

The Terence Higgins Trust Freephone: 0800 802 1221

The Mix Helpline: 0808 808 4994

Mindline Trans+ Helpline: 0300 330 5468

What will my friends say?

They might be surprised, have lots of questions, not know what to say, or may have even guessed already. It’s a good idea to start by choosing a friend you trust and who you think will be supportive.

Think about how you’ll answer any questions like, ‘how do you know?’ or ‘how can I support you?’. You can also decide whether you want to tell them in person (whether that’s in public or private), over the phone, or via a letter or message.

If a friend reacts badly, remember they might just need some time to absorb what you’ve told them. Although you can’t predict what people will say or do, when you tell a close friend that you trust, the chances are they’ll feel privileged you felt able to share something so personal with them.

How do I tell my family?

Lots of people worry about how their family will react when they come out. It’s worth acknowledging that coming out could be a bit of a surprise to them – while you’ve probably had a long time to get used to your identity, your family will be hearing the news for the first time.

Try to tell them at a time when you will be able to talk things through properly. Coming out when you’re arguing or angry isn’t a good idea. Some people tell their family face to face, while others prefer to write a letter or send an email. Your family might be shocked, worried, or find it difficult to accept at first. If you’re upset by their reaction, it’s OK to end the conversation until they’ve had more time to process the news. Remember that their first reaction isn’t necessarily how they’ll feel forever.

Coming out at work

LGBTQ+ people perform better at work when we can be ourselves and feel valued for who we are. This means it’s in your employer’s best interests to support you to be open and honest at work. Some employers have staff networks which you can join for support and to meet other LGBTQ+ people. If there’s no network at your workplace, share your news with a trusted colleague or your manager. Or, if you’re feeling brave, set up a network yourself. It’s likely you’re not the only LGBTQ+ person at work.

It’s also worth checking if your employer is a Stonewall Diversity Champion. We work with workplaces across the UK, and globally, to improve the experiences of LGBTQ+ employees.

If you experience a negative reaction after coming out at work, there are legal protections on your side. The Equality Act 2010 bans discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment (gender identity) in employment and vocational training. This includes direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation, and you are protected throughout the entire employment relationship, from recruitment to dismissal. Discrimination applies to terms and conditions, pay, promotions, transfers, training and dismissal. You can read more about this on the Discrimination at Work webpage.

Specific support with coming out as bi

Coming out as bi, or as an identity which sits as part of the bi umbrella such as pan or queer, can be different to coming out as lesbian or gay, with its own obstacles. People might say that being bi is a ‘phase’ or that you’re ‘really’ lesbian or gay but haven't accepted it.

This can lead to the feeling that your identity isn't as 'valid' as others – but of course, this isn’t true. Being bi is a valid identity in and of itself, and at Stonewall we work to support bi people as much as those with other sexual orientations. Your bi sexuality is just as real if you’ve only had sexual or romantic relations with people of one gender, or if the majority of your attraction is to one gender.

Even if you do later identify as lesbian or gay, this is a decision for you to make when the time is right for you. No one else gets to determine what your sexual orientation is, at any point in your life.

Our Bi report explores the experiences of bi people in the UK and is a good first step if you want to learn more about bi communities.

Specific support with coming out as ace

Coming out as ace, or as an identity which sits as part of the ace umbrella, such as demisexual or greysexual, can come with different obstacles to coming out as gay, lesbian and bi, due to the attached stigma, and a lack of widespread understanding and knowledge. You may have to deal with people telling you that this is not ‘normal’ or that you have a mental illness – this can be difficult to go through but remember that your experience is personal to you and completely valid.

To help family members, friends, or colleagues better understand the ace and aro spectrum, you could direct them to this helpful page on how to be a good ally. You can also hear directly from some ace and aro people here.

Specific support with coming out as trans

Coming out as trans, or as an identity which sits as part of the trans umbrella such as non-binary or genderqueer, is different to coming out as lesbian, gay, or bi. For one thing, you may want to ask people to use a different name or pronouns when they speak to you. Whether or not you want to transition medically, you may be asked questions about hormones and surgery.

As with all of these conversations, it’s a good idea to reassure people that you’ve given this a lot of thought. Give them time to process your news, and let them know how to best support you – are there books they should read, podcasts they should listen to, or films they should watch? Our article The Truth about Trans might be a good starting point if they’re feeling unsure about what it means to be trans.

It’s OK not to answer every question you’re asked about your transition and what it might involve. But you might want to think about which questions you’re happy to answer (this may vary depending on who you’re talking to) and how much detail you want to go into.

What do I do if I feel unsafe?

If your safety is compromised after you’ve come out – if you have been evicted from your home or feel threatened by the people that you live with – there are LGBTQ-specific support services and shelters that you can contact. They will be there for you and do their best to help you however they can.

If you are at risk of homelessness contact Stonewall Housing LGBTIQ+ Housing Advice Line 0207 359 5767 Mon-Fri 10am – 1pm, or complete a self-referral form.

You can also contact Shelter for free confidential expert advice via their website, Housing Aid Centres, helpline and email services. Helpline 0808 800 4444.

If someone is being abusive towards you in your home contact Galop National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline 0800 999 5428 Mon-Fri 10am – 5pm (Wed & Thurs 8pm.

If it is out of hours (after 5pm) you could contact your local councils out of hours service for emergency accommodation.

If you’re in mental distress and need someone to talk to, try the LGBT+ Switchboard Helpline at 03003300630.