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Fact Sheet

Coming out conversation starters


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Starting a conversation around coming out can be hard. You might not know exactly what to say, be worried about how the other person will react, or have had a bad experience in the past telling someone who didn’t react well.

While you won’t know everything about how the conversation will go and each person (friends, family, teachers, etc.) is likely to have a slightly different response depending on your relationship, you can think about what you want to say before to start the conversation in a certain direction. A few tips for considering what to say in common scenarios:

Coming out to friends

Friends: Friends are typically one of the first people we come out to. Coming out to friends can sometimes feel easier than family because we may have closer, more honest relationship with them than with parents or other adults. There is also a level of comfort not found in other relationships that you have with your friends.

Before you come out to friends, you may want to consider:

  • There is no right order. You may want to start by coming out to a best friend or a small group of your closest friends. You should not feel pressured to come out to ALL your friends at one time. The most important thing is that you feel like you can trust and confide in the person or people you are telling. You might also want to choose a time when you’ll be able to talk through things without interruption.
  • Tell them why you chose to come out to them and how much their support means to you. If you don’t feel comfortable with other people in your friend group knowing, be direct about wanting your friend to respect your privacy. It’s your information to share and a good friend will respect that.
  • Encourage your friend to explore information in the LGBTQ community with you. Having a supportive friend while you’re still figuring out your sexuality or gender identity can make the transition or exploration easier.
  • Don’t be afraid to be honest about your feelings.Sometimes it can be hard dealing with the range of emotions coming out can bring. Your friends are there to support you.
  • Be prepared for a range of reactions to this news. While some friends may have an easy time accepting and embracing the news, some may have mixed emotions, including shock, confusion, sadness or anger at not knowing earlier. Remember that you’ve had more time to process your news than your friend, so if a friend is uncomfortable or seems to doubt you, consider letting them know that you are okay with having a longer conversation or giving them space and talking about it later.
  • If your friend reacts with anger, it’s normal to feel disappointed or upset.  Try to take some space and seek out support from an adult or through local or online resources to help you deal. Knowing how others have coped with bad reactions from friends can be a good reminder that you’re not alone and also provide you with tools and strategies for moving on.

Coming out to family

Parents: Location and timing could play a factor in a parent’s reaction, so you may want to take a look at the Coming Out fact sheet to prepare where and when you tell them. General guidelines could include:

  • Explain how important this announcement is to you.
  • Tell them how much their support means to you.
  • Consider your parents’ views and feelings on sexuality and gender identity. If you have a sense that the response might be complicated or not accepting because of religious views, cultural values or generation gap, you may want to think about finding local support-based groups for your religious or cultural background to help you prepare. See the Coming Out fact sheet for more info.
  • Remember: trust yourself. You know you better than anyone else. Come out with the labels that you want to put out to the people you are talking to. You don't need to explain every detail.
  • Refer parents to resources like the ReachOut website, where they can learn more about the LGBTQ community and find other resources such as PFLAG or Family Acceptance Project.

Coming out can be stressful and bring on mixed emotions. It can be one of the biggest and most stressful decisions you will ever make. However, preparing for and reaching out for support can make it easier. Come out at your own time and pace. No matter what response you get, you’re not alone.

Siblings: If your siblings are around your age or older, you’ll probably take similar steps to telling your friends (see below) and parents (see above). If your sibling is younger and/or may have difficulty understanding, you may want to talk to your parents first (if you’ve come out to them) about wanting to tell your siblings. Parents could have concerns about the age of the sibling or have concerns about their ability to understand.

General guidelines could include:

  • Explain how important it is that you’re sharing this part of yourself.
  • Tell them how much their support means to you.
  • Come out in a way your sibling will understand, this is especially important if they’re young and may not understand what this means. This could include discussing topics like couples or love or using books at their reading level with examples of LGBTQ families (Check out The Family Book by Todd Parr or King and King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, or ask your local librarian or bookstore staff).
  • Ask questions and encourage them to ask you questions. Understanding how they think of sexuality and gender expression could help you know how to approach the conversation and lay the groundwork for future conversations.

Coming out at school

To a teacher or administrator: There are several reasons why you might choose to come out to a teacher or administrator at school. Our teachers and administrators can play very important roles as adults in our lives during our middle and high school years and can provide a valuable source of support.

This is especially important if you are being harassed or bullied because of your sexuality or gender identity. Talking out the situation with a trusted adult, especially if there is a question of safety, does not mean you have to come out to anyone else. It can simply be a way of seeking extra support and guidance for a difficult situation.

If you feel comfortable in your school environment, a teacher or staff member can just be a helpful ally as you become more open about yourself at school.

If you do choose to come out at school, you may want to:

  • Choose a teacher or administrator you know or are familiar with.
  • Tell them why you chose to share this information.
  • Ask them about getting involved with any existing LBGTQ groups or possibly sponsoring or supporting an effort to start a GSA on campus.
  • If you’re being bullied, tell them! More than likely you’re not the only one facing this issue; you could be helping yourself and someone else in the long run.
    • If you think that they don’t believe you, or are not taking you seriously, or if that person doesn’t help you take action, it doesn’t mean that your feelings aren’t valid or that the bullying is okay. It’s important you tell someone else (another teacher, school counselor, principal) and that you continue to do so until you get the help you need. See the bullying fact sheet for more guidance on seeking help.
    • If the bullying is also taking place online, you should also keep a record of what’s happening (including the time and date). This will help the teacher or counselor better understand your situation and may also be useful if the situation gets worse and needs to be reported to the police.  See the cyberbullying fact sheet for more information.

To a counselor or nurse: Teachers and administrators are not the only adults we get to know on campus. School counselors and nurses can also play a key role in our lives at school. Counselors and nurses offer support to students, help them make decisions, and can provide guidance for looking after your mental as well as physical health. There is also a level of professional confidentiality (privacy between you and your counselor) with these people that might help you trust them to come out more than a teacher or administrator.

If you do choose to come out to a nurse or counselor, you may want to:

  • Tell them why you’re choosing to come out to them and how much their supports mean to you.
  • If you’re coming out to them because of bullying or harassment, tell them about it. They’re there to help you as well as protect others from the same harassment.
  • If you need help finding resources for information and support, ask them. They can provide other suggestions and also do research on your behalf.
  • If you are worried about confidentiality (aka will they tell anyone what you are talking about?), make sure you talk to them about it before sharing something private and personal.

Group setting/club: If you’re involved with extracurricular activities at school, you might consider coming out to a group or club. While the choice is yours, there can be benefits to coming out in these settings.

Clubs offer you the opportunity to come out to a group with similar interests as you. Your coming out might make you feel more comfortable and could help encourage others in the group to come out or be generally open about their identity.

If you do choose to come out in a club setting, you may want to consider:

  •  Trust your comfort level. If there are members you don’t know as well, you may decide to come out to a few close friends in the group rather than everyone at once.  If you feel comfortable right off the bat, you may decide to just be open about your sexuality or gender identity rather than making any type of announcement. There is no right way, just what’s right for you.
  • It’s good to be aware that everyone may not be open-minded. However you choose to come out, there is a chance you may be met with hostility or anger. This may be shown by someone making comments, acting distant or giving off a “bad vibe.” This type of behavior is not your fault and it’s not okay. You have the right to speak up for yourself or seek support to help you cope.
  • If you feel uncomfortable or concerned about your safety for any reason, you can consult your club advisor or another teacher to assist you in handling the situation.

Coming out can be stressful and bring on mixed emotions. It can be one of the biggest and most stressful decisions you will ever make. However, preparing for and reaching out for support can make it easier. Come out at your own time and pace. No matter what response you get, you’re not alone.

More Information

Resources for coming out to family and friends
Family Acceptance Project
PFLAG (Parents, Families, Friends and Allies, to LGBTQ People)

Resources for anyone struggling to come out 
Trevor Project and Trevor helpline (1-866-488-7386)
GLBT National Youth Talkline (1-800-246-7743)

Resources for coming out at school
Gay Straight Alliance Network
Safe Schools Coalition
GLSEN, Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network

This fact sheet was produced in collaboration with GSA Network as part of an initiative of Proposition 63 funded by California counties to develop mental health resources for LGBTQ youth in California. See the funding statement below for details.

This program is funded by counties through the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63). It is one of several Prevention and Early Intervention Initiatives implemented by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of California counties working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities. CalMHSA encourages the use of materials contained herein, as they are explained in our licensing agreements. To view the agreements, please visit: calmhsa.org

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