Allies & Advocates

Coming Out

Coming out refers to a life-long process of developing a positive LGBT identity. It can be a difficult journey, because LGBT people must confront not only the widespread prejudice, discrimination, and homophobia of the persons and institutions of our society, but they must also confront and overcome the negative stereotypes, misinformation, and homophobia they learned and internalized while growing up. As LGBT people begin to accept themselves, hiding their feelings no longer feels like the best option. They stop denying who they are and begin telling others the truth. This process of self-acceptance and disclosure is referred to as "coming out of the closet" or simply "coming out."

"Coming out" is a process that may be conceptualized as occurring in three basic stages: self- acceptance, telling others, and integrating one's identity. These stages are not linear, nor do they happen only once. Each person's coming out journey is unique to them, and there is no right or wrong way to do it.

  • Self-acceptance begins with an initial acknowledgment that one experiences emotional and sexual attraction to persons of the same gender, and may over time involve acknowledging a LGBT identity. Self-acceptance often involves accessing information from a variety of sources to begin constructing a positive LGBT identity. Initial efforts to meet other LGBT people are made. The inability to accept oneself, often due to internalized homophobia and shame, can be a significant barrier to being accepted by others.
  • Telling others tends to occur in steps, with persons often disclosing their identities initially to persons they feel will be most supportive. Beginning to share one's identity usually decreases feelings of isolation. Fear and expectation of rejection or exposure tends to cause many persons to avoid coming out to others, often even to those most likely to be accepting.
  • Integrating one's identity involves living in a genuine way, whether at work, in the community, or at home. It allows one to refocus the energy formerly used to hide and pass as heterosexual, and to live life to the fullest. Integrating one's identity includes talking about a romantic partner with family and friends and including them in holiday and other gatherings. At work, it may include talking to co-workers about one's personal life, or putting a picture of a partner on a desk, just like non-gay colleagues. It may also include getting involved politically.

To many Americans, gay and lesbian people are invisible. However, the truth is that gay and lesbian people are everywhere: as family members, co-workers, and neighbors. Gays touch the lives of millions of people who do not think they know anyone gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

  • Coming out makes visible the reality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender lives.
  • Coming out dispels myths and misinformation and turns ignorance and fear into acceptance.
  • Coming out means no longer hiding the truth about one's life.
  • Coming out is about living with integrity and genuineness.
  • Coming out opens possibilities for honest relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.
  • Coming out gives role models to others struggling with their sexual orientation.
  • Coming out empowers one to get involved and to work to make our nation a more civil and fair-minded place for everyone.

Source: Adapted from: Human Rights Campaign.

Page last modified December 22, 2010