As times change and the world slowly becomes a more accepting place, more LGBTQ people feel comfortable coming out. Two years ago, India’s Supreme Court ruled against Section 377, decriminalizing homosexuality. Now, many people are trying to legalize homosexual marriage. So chances are, you are going to know at least one person close to you who will come out as LGBTQ. This is a good thing, a sign that beneficial changes are happening. But it can also be scary, both for you and for your friend.
You may feel scared when this happens. How can you be a good ally? How do you support your friend? How do you know what mistakes to avoid? What if you accidentally hurt them? How can you protect them?
Even though many things are getting better in India, there are lots that aren’t as well. Many people are still incredibly religious, and view people in the LGBTQ community as sinners. So it can be difficult to navigate this journey with your friend.
If you don’t know a lot about being LGBTQ or being an ally, these are probably concerns you have. They are completely valid and understandable worries. But that’s what we’re here for. This guide can give you a little insight into how to be a better ally, both the do’s and the don’ts, so that you can be there for your friend.
What to do to support your friend
There are lots of things you can do to support your friend when they come out as LGBTQ. The best thing you can do is simply talk to your friend and ask what they need, but there are other ways to help. Here are a few of them.
1. Remember it’s hard for both of you
You will probably feel like it is a struggle adjusting to your friend being LGBTQ. But remember that they are also struggling, in fact, they are probably struggling more than you. They face potential violence, outrage, and danger from religious fanatics because of their identity.
Additionally, remember that your friend’s identity is valid, even if you don’t understand it. So avoid saying that it doesn’t sound real instead, ask questions, and always remind them that they are valid.
2. Educate yourself
Asking your friend questions is perfectly fine to do. However, some LGBTQ people get tired of being asked the same questions over and over. So it might be helpful if you can educate yourself.
Hopefully, you have access to the internet. Use it to search up definitions of terms, harmful stereotypes, what you can do, and anything else you want to know.
Also look up what issues LGBTQ people face, especially in India, like the fight around section 377, the attempt to legalize gay marriage, and religious persecution. This will help you understand what your friend is going through, so you know how to best help them.
Not only will this help you support your friend, but it will broaden your understanding of the world. The more you know, the more you are able to help your friend, and the more you may be able to help other people later.
3. Always use proper terms and pronouns
Even if you don’t know what they mean, use whatever pronouns and terms your friend is comfortable with you using.
“Gay” and “queer” are not interchangeable terms, and the same can be said for many others. So if your friend asks to be called gay, don’t call them queer unless it is ok with them.
The best, and only reliable way of finding out what terms your friend wants you to use is to ask. Just say “how would you like me to refer to you”. This way, you avoid confusion and make your friend feel comfortable.
Additionally, you will make mistakes. That’s ok! Just apologize to your friend, and do your best to avoid making them again. Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up a couple of times.
4. Know the difference between acceptance and support
Acceptance is a passive act, while support is an active one. If you are ok with your friend being LGBTQ, use the right terms and pronouns, and respect them, then you are accepting. But to truly support your friend, you need to take it one step further.
Ask them what they need from you. If somebody says something homophobic, stand up to them instead of letting it slide. Help your trans friend get new clothes if they need them. Stand up for them, and do what they need you to do so they feel safe.
Supporting your friend rather than just accepting them will be much more helpful to them. It will create a stronger relationship between you two, and you both will be happier.
5. Encourage your friend to be independent
Many Indians have large families. They often face larger issues from their extended family than their close family, and may lose support. So help them to be independent.
Help them figure out a way to have financial security on their own, so that they don’t have to worry about being cut off. The more independent they are, the safer they will be if they decide to come out.
Things to avoid
No two people are the same, and so support for each person looks different. Again, the best way to find out what not to do is to ask your LGBTQ friend directly. But in general, there are a few things to avoid doing.
6. Never out them unless they ask you too
Just because your friend came out to you, doesn’t mean they are ready to come out to everybody. Ask your friend who knows about it, and if there’s anyone they don’t want finding out. Avoid telling people who don’t know unless your friend explicitly asks you to do it.
For one, coming out is a powerful thing, and if you do that for your friend, you take that power away from them.
You should advise your friend to never come out to religious fanatics, and you should never out them to those types of people. These people are often the most aggressive towards LGBTQ people in India, and can pose a lot of danger.
Also, there may be an issue of safety. Especiall for LGBTQ people in India, being out can be dangerous and scary. So never out your friend to anyone they don’t want knowing. Whether it’s their family, friends, employer, or just the general public, your friend has a good reason for not wanting to tell people.
7. Avoid assumptions and stereotypes
Although some stereotypes are based in truth, many are harmful to LGBTQ people, and often not true. So don’t use them.
For example, if your friend has never liked musicals and comes out as gay, don’t assume they suddenly love musicals.
Avoid stereotypes and assumptions altogether. Rather, treat your friend like the person they always have been, because likely, they haven’t changed much.
8. Never ask how they know
Something almost all LGBTQ people hate hearing is “how do you know you’re ____?”. The answer is simple, the same way a straight person knows they’re straight: they just know.
Also, don’t ask them “are you sure?”. That will make it seem like you’re questioning their identity, and may not support them. Even if they’re not sure, they deserve to be treated like they are.
Lastly, never say “it’s a phase”. This makes many LGBTQ people feel like their identity isn’t valid and, chances are, it isn’t a phase.
Even if it is a phase, phases are still valid. If somebody goes through a phase of liking painting you don’t tell them that they can’t paint because it will eventually pass. So avoid saying it’s a phase, and support them whether it is or not.
Wrapping it up
Clearly, supporting your LGBTQ friend when they come out has many nuances and possibilities. But if you talk to your friend, ask them questions, and follow this guide, you should be ok.
You might make mistakes sometimes. That’s ok too. Just apologize, move on, and try not to do it again.
Most importantly, remember: acceptance is a passive act, support is active.