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Estimated reading: 13 minutes
  • There are many different reasons why LGBTQ+ people may or may not want to disclose their sexual or gender identities.
  • Coming out can be seen as having three milestones:
  • People need to make coming out because we live in society, where it is expected to be cisgender and heterosexual – it is considered the norm (described by term cisheteronormative).


Since the early 1970s, researchers focusing on healthy development of sexual minorities and the ways in which they assume sexual orientation identities or ascribe themselves by identity labels such as gay, lesbian, and later also bisexual etc. introduced a concept of coming out models. Coming out models were proposed to chart a progress of overcoming various but – sexual minority specific – challenges, typically during their adolescence and young adulthood (Cass, 1984; Troiden, 1979). These early “coming out” models typically assumed that sexual identity would develop in stages, starting with early childhood self-awareness, early recognition of same-sex desire during adolescence, sexual exploration during adulthood, self-acceptance, self-identification, and disclosure as gay/lesbian (and in later models, also as bisexual or others), and eventually leading to incorporation of same-sex sexual identity in young/emerging adulthood (Cass, 1984; Troiden, 1979). These early coming out models have become criticized for their methodological inaccuracy, lack of sensitivity to the surrounding cultural context, and for expectations of linearity of the process. They were also criticized for perpetuating a somewhat stereotypical narrative that was later nicknamed as a narrative of “struggle and success”. Despite this, some aspects of the original models may be considered useful today (Cohler & Hammack 2007). Although we give much more attention to variability of contextual factors that influence one’s sexual identity development, some factors may be considered as shared and conceptualized as milestones within the process of coming out.

These milestones typically begin when people realize they might not be straight (for example, by acknowledging their attraction to people of the same- or multiple- sex/gender); (ii) later they name or label these experiences (for example, by using the terms gay or LGBTQ+ in their understandings of self); and (iii) finally reach a point when they first disclose their identity, that is – come out, to significant others. This third milestone is oftentimes regarded as outer or external coming out, and there are multiple groups to which one may or may not want to disclose themselves.

This very “necessity” of coming out is in fact determined by the fact that we live in a world where culture and most of the social interactions are cis- and heteronormative. Cisheteronormativity is inasmuch normalized that it often became unremarkable or naturalized for straight people leaving them in a privileged position in which they do not have to come out to others about their sexuality, compared to all other groups with healthy non-cisgender distinctiveness and minority sexual orientations. Consequently, most people tend to assume, that others are cisgender and heterosexual. Perhaps in an ideal world, everyone would be open minded and would not automatically assume heterosexuality and cisgender status of others. In that kind of world LGBTQ+ people wouldn’t need to come out. Nowadays, coming outs especially of people who are publicly visible (tv hosts, artists, politicians, headteachers etc.) are especially important because they create a more open and welcoming atmosphere for young LGBTQ+ people and therefore making their coming out possibly a little bit easier.

An inclusive environment significantly reduces the stress associated with coming out. It is undoubtedly easier to come out in an environment where LGBTQ+ topics are commonly discussed, where there is no prejudice, where there is safety and trust. Coming out, on the other hand, can be made very difficult by any xenophobia or tabooing of LGBTQ+ topics. The inclusivity of the environment could be raised by LGBTQ+ people in position of power – for example openly LGBTQ+ teacher at schools.


Attraction that forms the basis for adult sexual orientation emerge from middle childhood to early adolescence. These feelings can emerge without any prior sexual experience. Every coming out is different due to personal characteristics and also due to the context the person is growing up in (APA, 2008).

  • Coming out in general
    • Coming out is not a single event, but a never-ending process.
    • Coming out could be extremely stressful, especially in a homo/transphobic environment.
    • Trust is crucial for a safe coming out.
  • Coming out to a best friend
    • For many LGBTQ+ youth, their best friend is the first person to come out.
    • Common advice is to come out to a close friend or other trusted person first.
  • Coming out to parents
    • Many young queer people fear the reaction of their parents the most due to religion, cultural or societal norms that can turn this conversation into a taboo topic. It is important to consider that in some countries, LGBTQ+ people cannot even come out as their sexual orientation could be seen as a crime and punished with prison, isolation and in some extreme cases, death sentence.
  • Coming out to classmates
    • Coming out at school can be very stressful as schools are still places where LGBTQ+ people encounter homo/bi and transphobic and other discriminatory reactions very often (FRA, 2019).
    • School should be a safe space for LGBTQ+ students to come out without fear of negative outcomes. The choice of sharing or not sharing this sensitive information always belongs to each and every student and the school should respect their decision and offer tools and support to make the process easier.
    • The school environment is essential for safe coming out. School shouldn’t be cisheteronormative and LGBTQ+ topics should be present during classes. You could start by using gender inclusive/neutral language in class, by offering access to age-appropriate informative resources or by expressing your availability and intention of support.
  • Stigma by association / courtesy stigma
    • Courtesy stigma is a tendency for a person to be stigmatized because of their closeness or association with stigmatized person. It can be experienced by friends and family of LGBTQ+ people. That can lead people who have negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people to also avoid their friends and family, or to think these acquaintances are LGBTQ+ too, or that they possess stereotyped personality traits associated to be gay/lesbian/trans, etc. This can be motivated by keeping the negative attitude towards LGBTQ+ people consistent and avoid cognitive dissonance (Sigelman et al., 1991). Other expression of the associated stigma can be public stigma – when the family members are stigmatized because they are being blamed for their loved one’s LGBTQ+ identity (LaSala, 2010).
  • Coming out in terms of disclosure
    • Not coming out to some in terms of concealment and passing as straight or cis person.
    • The difference between concealment and disclosure.
    • Multiple motivations of people not being out or authentic in different environments.

To come out, or not to come out? That is the question many LGBTQ+ people have to constantly consider. Why may some people choose not to come out in order to pass as straight/cis? The coming out strategies are different in each situation/context.

Sometimes LGBTQ+ people just don’t consider coming out as necessary and they just don’t mind if people around will or will not know that they are LGBTQ+. Especially it they are passing as straight or cis person it could be just easier to not explain other details about their sexuality or gender identity.

Concealment could be also a part of life strategy to stay safe. Especially for those, who are growing up in a homo/transphobic environment. Therefore, the strategies to support closeted LGBTQ+ youth should not always lead to coming out without considering all possibilities. Safety of the person should always be in first place.

The most important rule is that the coming out should always be in the hands of the person it relates to. Nobody has the right to make “coming out” for someone else without their agreement (to spread the information about someone’s gender identity or/and sexual orientation without the person’s knowledge and approvement). Every LGBTQ+ person has the right to decide about their coming out (and it’s time and form) voluntarily and independently.


What can be some points that LGBTQ+ people might consider when coming out?

  • Misunderstanding and non-acceptance by parents and/or siblings.
  • Rejection by closest friends.
  • Being ridiculed and treated with hostility in peer groups.
  • Negative depiction of LGBTQ+ persons in the media (on- and offline) and in the public space.
  • Limitations in studies and professional paths.
  • Social isolation.
  • Being outed by others – online and offline.
  • Being dismissed/not taken seriously when coming out, hearing reactions like “You’ll know after you get proper sexual experiences”.

Coming out is dangerous for many LGBTQ+ people. They face various kinds of discrimination, which affects their conditions and decision of coming out.

Read more in:

→ 4. Violence

→ 7. European laws (legal practice).

→ 9. Environment influences

→ 11. Microaggressions


If LGBTQ+ sexualities and identities are not discussed in a certain environment, it is likely that the majority is not familiar with the vocabulary to describe queer topics. In such an environment, coming out might require a lot of explaining and energy, which can complicate the situation. LGBTQ+ youth also cannot be sure if their family, friends, or teachers will accept their coming out well or if it will be unacceptable to them which is really stressful and can lead to hiding of one’s identity.


Sometimes parents and teachers tend to downplay or trivialize the queer identity of teenagers. Phrases like “you’ll grow out of it” or “how can you be so confident at your age” can be very hurtful. Caregivers should provide children with safe space to let them explore themselves. If children grow up in the homo/transphobic environment, they will internalize this negative attitude and pathologizing view. This can backfire on themselves (if they are LGBTQ+) or on others in the form of homo/transphobic violence.

1.1.4. BEST PRACTICES Creating a safe space and alliances

How to create a safe space and be an ally which makes it easier for people to safely come out (Macháčková & Pavlica, 2020):

  • By being respectful, open, and non-judgmental, you can create a space which is positive and open for everyone to be themselves.
  • Educate yourself in LGBTQ+ area and potentially also others (for this, reach out for support you need from LGBTQ+ organization for example);
  • Reflect on your own values and biases regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and how they influence your behaviour, how your education, environment and position in society shape your views of LGBTQ+ people.
  • Include LGBTQ+ people and topics in your curriculum or talking (examples in literature, famous personas, inviting LGBTQ+ organization).
  • Use inclusive language which is not harmful (for example say gay instead of homosexual – this term is outdated and has pathologizing connotation; respect people’s identity and pronouns – you can always ask if you’re not sure).
  • Avoid laughing at homophobic jokes and avoid making assumptions about sexual orientation of people based on their appearance.
  • Address homophobic jokes and remarks and set a positive example with your behaviour as an ally. Supporting safe coming out

If you are the person to whom an LGBTQ+ person comes out, it is important what your reaction will be. This applies both if you are in a professional relationship at the time, and also in the case of a personal relationship. How you could process and support someone when they confide in you and disclose that they are LGBTQ+ (Smetáčková, 2020):

  • Listen to them. It takes a lot of courage and trust to come out.
  • Avoid blaming, insulting, or attacking.
  • If you are surprised, tell it sensitively. You have the right to do that. You can ask for time to absorb the news.
  • Be honest and open about how you feel. Do not act theatrics but try to communicate objectively and respectfully. It is not only what we say that matters, but also how we say it.
  • Talk about what the message means for your relationship. Reassure them that your relationship does not change, or in what sense it does.
  • Ask about what interests you. Do not be afraid to talk about it, but do not interrogate. Do your research first if you do not have any information on the topic as LGBTQ+ people do not owe you education on the topic. They might be doing it every time they come out to someone.
  • Respect the confidentiality of the conversation. Everything that is said should remain only between you. If you are convinced that someone else should receive the information, it is necessary to agree on this and obtain permission from the person who came out. Education as prevention

  • Talk to your children about relationships and sexuality and include LGBTQ+ examples in these discussions. You don’t have to be an expert for LGBTQ+ topics. Just avoid stereotypical thinking about gender and sexuality, involve speaking about same sex/gender love and families, support possibilities for the child to express themselves freely regardless of gender stereotypes and give examples of non-stereotypical figures, which can be inspiring. Be open-minded and listen to your children. Let these discussions be part of your family quality time. Other resources


American Psychological Association (APA). (2008). Answers to your questions: For a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality.

Cass, V. C. (1984). Homosexual identity formation: Testing a theoretical model. Journal of sex research, 20(2), 143-167.

LaSala, M. (2010). Parents of Gay Children and Courtesy Stigma. Stigma Busting for Families of Lesbian and Gay Youth. Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/gay-and-lesbian-well-being/201008/parents-gay-children-and-courtesy-stigma

Macháčková, M. & Pavlica, K..(2020).Sexuální orientace a genderová identita v sociální práci. In Specifika sociální práce respektující genderovou, vztahovou a sexuální rozmanitost 1. Praha. Available at: https://www.praguepride.cz/cs/kdo-jsme/media-download/publikace/84-specifika-socialni-prace-respektujici-gederovou-sexualni-a-vztahovou-rozmanitost/file

Sigelman, C. K., Howell, J. L., Cornell, D. P., Cutright, J. D., & Dewey, J. C. (1991). Courtesy Stigma: The Social Implications of Associating with a Gay Person. The Journal of Social Psychology, 131(1), 45–56. doi:10.1080/00224545.1991.9713823

Smetáčková, I.(2020). Coming out aneb když se to ví. In Specifika sociální práce respektující genderovou, vztahovou a sexuální rozmanitost 1. Praha. Available at: https://www.praguepride.cz/cs/kdo-jsme/media-download/publikace/84-specifika-socialni-prace-respektujici-gederovou-sexualni-a-vztahovou-rozmanitost/file

Troiden, R. R. (1979). Becoming homosexual: A model of gay identity acquisition. Psychiatry, 42(4), 362-373.

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