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FAQ for an Ally

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Frequent Questions from Friends of LGBTQA Students

In what ways can I reach out to my friend about his or her sexual orientation?

The best way to reach out to any friend in need is to make sure they are aware of your support for them. Frequently, the topic of sexual orientation can be hard for a friend to talk about until they are very comfortable with themselves and positive that revealing the information will not harm the friendship you share. The best way to reach out to a friend is to be ready for them to reach out to you.

What do I do if someone comes out to me?

If someone feels comfortable with you and feels open enough to tell you about their sexual orientation, hopefully you are able to take a moment to reflect on the level of trust they feel in your friendship. It is often very hard for some individuals to talk about their orientation as this is a very private detail about themselves. The best thing you can do for an individual that comes out to you is be there for them and let them understand that you are supportive of them no matter what their sexual orientation is. It is important that the individual know that you still share your love with them.

What if I don't feel comfortable when I find out?

It is very important to be able to assess and address personal feelings and biases when learning about other sexual orientations than our own. It is natural to feel at odds with a topic that is foreign to us. Becoming more informed about LGBTQ individuals will allow you to form a well rounded, personal opinion on non-heterosexual attraction. Being open and honest with yourself will allow you to do the same for your friend.

To better understand the experiences of your friend, explore the Coming Out page in the LGBTQA WebCenter. This will allow you to better understand the struggle that you friend maybe facing during their coming out process.

My friend has been suicidal due to his/her guilt associated with his/her sexual orientation; how should I support this friend without violating his/her trust?

Suicidal thoughts can be very dangerous for anyone regardless of sexual orientation. It is important for an individual to find aid and have support from loved ones during this time. Encourage a friend to seek out someone to talk to about their thoughts where they will be able to express themselves openly without the threat of judgment or misunderstanding. The Counseling Center at Eastern Illinois University is a valuable place to turn to for assistance in this area. Contact a center employee at 217-581-3413. Suicidal thoughts are a very important matter that your friend may need assistance with; do not feel as though you are breaking their trust by telling a professional. Their safety should be your first priority.

The Trevor Project also has a 24-hour suicide hotline and chat service this is specifically focused on LGBTQ students.

How do I defend my friend to other friends who are homophobic?

Many people struggle with their own perceptions of LGBTQ individuals. Not being comfortable with a topic that is foreign to us is natural. If you have friends showing signs of homophobia, it will be more beneficial if you try to inform them about non-heterosexual orientations. Hopefully a friend will be able to see the harm that negative viewpoints inflict on others when you take the time to explain the struggles LGBTQ individuals go through. Resources on how to best act as an ally to your LGBTQ friend have been compiled by GLAAD for their Ally Campaign.

How can I help my friend be more open about this?

It is common to want to be able to assist a friend in their development of a positive identity. It is important to understand that it may take some LGBTQA individuals a long time to become personally accepting of themselves. Letting your friend know that your personal views of them have not altered is the best way to show support. Some individuals may not choose to disclose their sexual orientation to many people.

What is the best way to approach the conversation? Should I talk to a loved one about his or her sexual orientation or gender identity before the person talks to me?

It is very important for you to be able to recognize that your friend may be personally struggling if they identify as a LGBTQ individual. Sexual orientation is a deeply personal issue that one has to accept before they can move to telling people close to them.

However, it is acceptable to let your friend or loved one know that you are there for them when they are ready to talk. They may be looking for someone who is caring, open, and accepting of who they are.

In what circumstances is it alright to out a gay friend?

Outing, or disclosing a person’s sexual orientation to others without permission, is rarely acceptable in any situation. An LGBTQ individual should be the person that is allowed to make the choice as to who they wish to disclose their personal life to. It can be easy to believe we are helping a LGBTQA friend by disclosing their orientation to others. It is important to understand that sexual orientation is a very private matter. LGBTQA individuals should have the choice to disclose to the people of their choosing.

Should I feel guilty about the privileges I have because I'm straight?

You should not feel discouraged at the privilege you are personally awarded in life. However, it is important to take time to understand the experience of people that do not gain those same privileges do to uncontrollable factors in their lives. Many find ways to turn their privilege into an advantage for those not awarded it. A good way to do this is to take time to discover different ways to become an active ally. A good starting point on how to be an ally has been compiled by GLAAD.

I'm getting married next year. Should I still ask my gay friend to be in the wedding?

Try not to push away your friend because of joy you have been able to achieve in life. Inviting them to share the experience with you lets them know that they are still a valued and loved friend in your life. However, it is important to be understanding if your LGBTQ friend decides not to be in attendance. Some LGBTQ individuals may struggle in celebration of marriage due to restrictions on marriage in some places.

Can I still talk to my friend about my dating life?

Your friend is still a person that you can confide in just as you did prior to knowing about their sexual orientation. Their personal feelings towards you are no different, and they will want to be a part of your life just as you will want to be a part of theirs.

How does someone know they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?

Some individuals say that they have "felt different" or knew they were attracted to people of the same sex from the time they were very young. Some transgender individuals talk about feeling from an early age that their gender identity did not match parental and social expectations. Others do not figure out their sexual orientation or gender identity until they are adolescents or adults. Often it can take time for a person to put a label to their feelings, or people's feelings may change over time. 

Understanding our sexuality and gender can be a lifelong process, and many argue that people shouldn't worry about labeling themselves right away. People don't have to be sexually active to know their sexual orientation as feelings and emotions are as much a part of one's identity.

What causes homosexuality?

Sexuality is something that can be expressed in a wide range of ways. There is not a set kind of sexuality that all people adhere to because human beings are all very diverse.

Is there something wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?

Homosexuality is not an illness or a disorder, a fact that is agreed upon by both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association in 1974.

Historians have determined that homosexuality has existed since the beginning of humanity and anthropologists report that LGBTQ people have been part of every culture. LGBTQ people are represented in every socioeconomic class, educational level, and race.

Can you tell if people are LGBTQ by their appearance?

All lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals are different and diverse mannerisms, style choices, lifestyles. Many stereotypes exist revolving around the LGBTQ community and their appearances. While some individuals may be viewed as acting or dressing from within this stereotypical realm, all LGBTQ individuals are different. Many people do not fit into stereotypical understandings of the LGBTQA community and are invisible to the general public.

Do lesbians or gay men hate the opposite sex?

Lesbians and gay men identity as lesbian or gay because of the emotional and sexual attraction they have to members of the same sex. Hating the opposite sex is a common stereotype and misconception of lesbian and gay men.

What about HIV/AIDS?

The despite overwhelming statistics documenting the spread of HIV/AIDS in other communities, many people still choose to view the disease as an issue restricted to the LGBTQ community.

HIV is transmitted through direct contact of a mucous membrane or the bloodstream with a bodily fluid containing HIV, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, preseminal fluid, and breast milk. This transmission can involve anal, vaginal or oral sex, blood transfusion, contaminated hypodermic needles, exchange between mother and baby during pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or other exposure to one of the above bodily fluids.