Issue: Coming Out


Frequently asked questions about Coming Out.

What does it mean to “come out”?

Coming out is the process in which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to share that with others. Coming out is a continuous process and can often be risky or difficult.

Opening up to the possibility that you may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or even just questioning means opening up to the idea that you’re on a path that’s your own. It’s also why coming out and living ever more openly is a profoundly liberating experience.

Should I come out? How will people react?

Most people come out because, sooner or later, they can’t stand hiding who they are anymore. They want their relationships to be stronger, richer, more fulfilling and authentic. Once we come out, most of us find that it feels far better to be open and honest than to conceal such an integral part of ourselves. We also come to recognize that our personal decision to live openly helps break down barriers and stereotypes that have kept others in the closet. And in doing so, we make it easier for others to follow our example.

While there are many benefits to coming out, there are also risks. As constructive as the decision is, the reaction of others can be difficult or impossible to predict. When you weigh the benefits and risks of being open about yourself, it’s important to remember that the person in charge of your coming out journey is you. You decide who to confide in, when to do it and how. You also decide when coming out just may not be right, necessary or advisable.

Keep in mind that there is no right way or wrong way to come out or live openly. Choosing to come out or to be open does not mean you have to be out at all times or in all places – you decide how, where and when based on what’s right for you. Your sexual orientation and gender identity are important pieces of you, but they do not have to define you. Living openly doesn’t change all the many unique things that make you, you.

What does it mean to be transgender? Are all transgender people gay?

We use the term transgender to mean a broad range of people who experience and/or express their gender in different, sometimes non-traditional ways — either in terms of expressing a gender that does not match the sex listed on their original birth certificate, or in terms of physically changing their sex.

The term “gender identity,” distinct from the term “sexual orientation,” refers to gender that a person claims for oneself, which may or may not align with the gender assigned at birth.

The term “sexual orientation” describes a person’s enduring emotional, romantic, sexual and relational attraction to someone else, which is different from an innate sense of gender.

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What is a straight supporter? How do I come out as a straight ally?

A straight supporter or straight ally is someone who supports and honors sexual diversity, acts accordingly to challenge homophobic remarks or behaviors and explores and understands these forms of bias within him- or herself. Just as it takes courage for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be open and honest about who they are, it also takes courage to support your LGBT friends or loved ones.

There are many different ways that you can show your support for the LGBT people in your life. Again, there is no “right” way to demonstrate your support, and being supportive does not require you to march in parades or become an activist. By opening up and being honest with the people in your life about knowing and caring for a LGBT person, you will be taking a small, but important, step toward making the world more understanding and supportive for that person.

To find out more, click here.

What does it mean to be bisexual?

Someone who identifies as bisexual is emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to both men and women, though not necessarily simultaneously; a bisexual person may not be equally attracted to both sexes, and the degree of attraction may vary as sexual identity develops over time.

People who are attracted to both men and women face specific challenges during the coming out process. Unfortunately, misinformation about bisexuality is widespread, and many bisexual people find that when they come out, they must also work to educate those around them about their sexual orientation.

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How can I come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or same-gender loving, while also tending to who I am as African American, Asian Pacific American, and Hispanic or Latino/a?

As people of different races and ethnicities, we face unique challenges when we come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or same-gender loving. Many of us not only face prejudice from within the LGBT community, we also struggle with homophobia from our own racial or ethnic community. The National Coming Out Project has developed resources on coming out in the African-American, Latino/a and Asian Pacific American communities.


HRC Publications:

I came out to my family and friends, but should I come out at work?

Being open at work can be a daunting challenge, but it can also relieve the daily stress of hiding who you are. At the same time, however, no one wants to put their job security or opportunity for advancement in jeopardy.

Learn more about coming out at work from HRC’s Workplace Project.

Should I come out to my doctor?

One of the keys to good healthcare is being open with your healthcare provider. Doctors, nurses, physician assistants, psychotherapists and other professionals treating you need to know about your sexual orientation and gender identity to give the best care possible.

To find out more, click here.

How can I find LGBT-friendly places of employment?

The past decade has seen great changes in the workplace for LGBT employees - non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity, domestic partner benefits, LGBT employee groups. HRC's Corporate Equality Index is an annual summary that rates corporate America's treatment of LGBT employees. You can also check out "Best Places to Work" for a list of those companies that received a perfect score on the CEI. This list is organized by industry.