The process of telling others about your sexuality (also known as 'sexual orientation') is often referred to as ‘coming out’. Coming out is not necessarily a one-off event - lesbians, gay men and bisexual people may have to come out many times during their lives.
There is no one prescribed way to come out as lesbian, gay or bisexual. You may feel comfortable being open about your sexuality with some people, but not with others. Coming out to certain people, such as family, friends or colleagues, may be difficult and takes courage. Reactions to someone coming out can range from very positive, to less welcoming. Once you have made the decision to tell people about your sexuality, you may want to think about how you tell them. We have set out a few thoughts on coming out, and links to places you can contact if you want further advice and support.
Whether you've come to terms with your sexuality 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, to get support or simply get it off your chest.
Don't feel under pressure to come out - take your time. Only you will know when you feel comfortable and ready to do it.
To hide your sexuality from other people often means lying and pretending. You will need to think about whether hiding your sexuality is more or less stressful than being open about it.
If you decide to come out, but are unsure how others might react, you could consider making contact with a support group first. There are helplines, community groups and agencies across the country who are there to support and advise you. See below for more details. It could also be good to start by telling one or two trusted friends first, before coming out to other people.
Where people feel safe being visible and honest about being gay, they may challenge the stereotypes and prejudice others might have about homosexuality. It may help them to revise their attitudes towards lesbians, gay men and bisexuals and in the long term it will help to tackle homophobia (hatred or prejudice against gay people).
If you do come out, but get a negative reaction, don't despair. Talk to someone for more support.
Generally, however, you may be surprised by how positive the experience of coming out can be. Very few people regret coming out, even if it is difficult at the time.
For your local lesbian, gay and bisexual support organisation or helpline, please search our What's in my Area section.
There are related links on the right of this webpage to other websites with information on coming out. For more support for young people in coming out, visit our youth pages.
Stonewall has written a new guide (So...you think your child is gay?) which is designed to give answers to some of the common questions that parents might have when they think their child is gay, or has just come out. Written in plain English, it dispels the common myths about what being gay means for young people, as well as helping parents to create a supportive environment for their children. Read more