Coming out is a process of understanding and accepting one’s sexual identity. It involves both exploring your identity and sharing it with others. The stages of coming out include self discovery, disclosure, positive self-identification, and acceptance. The first two stages are the most challenging, but with a strong support system and positive mindset, the process of coming out can result in a valuable experience.
It seems that the toughest group to come out to is one’s family. Research shows that coming out to family members is highly associated with self-esteem and distress. Those who received positive reactions became more accepting of their sexual orientation and had their negative attitudes towards homosexuality become positive over time. They reported higher levels of self-esteem and long-term happiness. Additionally, they were more likely to disclose their sexual identity to more individuals, including their friends. By having acceptance from one’s family, enough confidence can be built to come out to others.
Coming out to friends can be considered equally challenging as coming out to family. Friends are the family we choose, and it’s important for one’s mental state to receive acceptance from friends no matter the circumstance. One study found that coming out to friends was related to anxiety and substance abuse. Those who found acceptance were less likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and subsequent substance abuse. In essence, positive attitudes towards homosexuality were beneficial for mental and physical health.
Unfortunately, not all organizations value open-mindedness and diversity. Research has found that disclosing at work and working for an organization perceived to be more supportive of homosexuality was related to higher job satisfaction and lower job anxiety. Reactions of coworkers to gay or lesbian workers mediated the relationship between disclosure and gay/lesbian workers’ job attitudes. In other words, employees were less likely to come out if the organizational climate was not supportive. This can lead to low job satisfaction and high turnover.
It is our responsibility as ethical human beings to stay educated in order to reduce ignorance and prejudice. One way to do this is by communicating with professionals. Mental health providers can benefit clients by utilizing interventions that challenge internalized stereotypes about homosexuality, increase social support, and process parental rejection, as well as focusing on how certain crucial experiences of rejection may impact individual mental health. Other methods include reading articles online and other resources so that we can be aware and supportive if someone we know and love comes out to us.
Organizations can also do their part in openly accepting homosexuality. Research shows that organizations who want to attract, select, and retain gay and lesbian workers should have formal, visible cues and structures reflecting that they already have such representation in their workforce or that there is organizational support and policies in place. Such organizations should consider what the candidates value and reinforce such values by creating and maintaining a culture that reflects this. These are proven methods that increase diversity.
Everything written is purely from an observational standpoint - I am not part of the LGBTQ community and have not experienced coming out. If you feel that anything written is incorrect or misunderstood, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and experiences.
Griffith. K. H. & Hebl, M. R. (2002). The disclosure dilemma for gay men and lesbians: "Coming out" at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(6), 1191-1199. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.87.6.1191
McConnell, E. A., Birkett, M. A., & Mustanski, B. (2015). Typologies of social support and associations with mental health outcomes among LGBT youth. LGBT Health, 2(1), 55-61. doi: 10.1089/lgbt.2014.0051
Puckett, J. A., Woodward, E. N., Mereish E. H., & Pantalone, D. W. (2014). Parental rejection following sexual orientation disclosure: Impact on internalized homophobia, social support, and mental health. LGBT Health, 2(3), 265-269. doi: 10.1089/lgbt.2013.0024
Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., & Hunter, J. (2006). A model of sexual risk behaviors among young gay and bisexual Men: Longitudinal associations of mental health, substance abuse, sexual abuse, and the coming-out process. AIDS Education and Prevention, 18(5), 444-460. doi: 10.1521/aeap.2006.18.5.44