What is 'coming out'?
Telling people about your sexual orientation or gender identity is called coming out. Coming out is not necessarily a one-off event - lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people may have to come out many times during their lives. It's also very individual and people may face different challenges when coming out.
There is no one prescribed way to come out. You may feel comfortable being open about your sexual orientation and gender identity with some people, but not with others. Coming out 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, you may want to think about how you tell them. We have set out a few thoughts on coming out, and links to where you can find further advice and support.
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, to get support or simply get it off your chest. To hide who you are from other people often means lying and pretending. You'll need to think about whether hiding is more or less stressful than being open about it.
Don't feel under pressure to come out - take your time. Only you will know when you feel comfortable and ready to do 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.
What will my friends say?
Most people worry about how their friends will react when they come out. Your friends might be surprised, have lots of questions, not know what to say or may have even guessed already. At first, choose a friend you trust and who you think will be supportive. Think about how you’ll answer some of the things they might ask like, ‘how do you know?’.
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 be pleased you’ve shared something so personal with them.
How do I tell my family?
There’s no right or wrong way or time to come our to your family. However, it’s a good idea to take time to think about what you want to say. 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. Remember, their first reaction isn’t necessarily how they’ll feel forever, they might just need a bit of time to process what you’ve told them.
Coming out at work
Stonewall knows that people perform better when they can be themselves. This means it's is in your employer's best interest to support you to be open and honest about who you are when at work. Some employers have LGBT staff networks which you can join for support and to meet other people.
The Equality Act 2010 bans discrimination and harrassment 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 these protections on our information pages under Discrimination At Work.
Stonewall works with employers across England, Scotland and Wales through its Diversity Champions programme. This is Britain’s leading best-practice employers' forum for sexual orientation and gender identity equality, diversity and inclusion. You can see who is a member of this programme, and explore our Top 100 Employers for LGBT people 2018.
Other useful sources of support
You can find LGBT-friendly solicitors and other useful contacts through Stonewall's online database What's In My Area.
For further information contact Stonewall's Information Service.