Accept a Close Friend's Sexual Orientation

This article covers a very important topic in today's society. Gay people, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are getting more exposure than ever before, yet people still find themselves not knowing how to react when someone they care about comes out to them. This is our hypothetical situation: someone you know has come out to you and you are not sure how to accept it. The main thing is not to panic or say anything you'll regret later, and try to remember that your friend/family member is still the same person they were before you found out. Note: the further on in the steps you get, the more risk you have of insulting or alienating your friend. Do the early steps, and only advance if you still have not accepted their orientation.


  1. Consider if you can just let it go. This does not by any means mean forget about it and treat them as straight, it just means don't harp on it or discuss it any more. It depends heavily on the method in which your friend chose to come out: this is acceptable for if it was part of a joke or casual conversation only, but in those situations is the best reaction.
  2. Give them a hug. This depends on how they react normally, but if they are a person comfortable with hugs, a hug shows acceptance and love better than any words will. A kind touch can work wonders.
  3. Relax for a minute. Take a deep breath and remember what you thought and felt about your friend before they confided in you: what were the qualities about this person that you liked or admired? Why or how did you become friends? Remember that your friend still possesses all of those qualities. Or, if this is a relative, it's not just blood that binds you, right? It's also who this person is inside that you love, and that person has not changed at all.
  4. Understand that this conversation is not about you. Your friend's orientation was not, is not, and (unless you decide to date them) never will be about you. Do not push them to talk about it further than they are willing to.
  5. Avoid becoming fixated on sex. There is enough talk about sex in the media and everywhere else. Sexual orientation is not defined by the mere act of sexual activity with someone of the same sex. It is the internal, intrinsic orientation of the person. Try to personalize it: are you, a straight person, constantly thinking of sexual contact and sexual activity? Okay, so maybe you think about it a lot. But it isn't the only defining thing about you, right? Maybe you're an athlete, an artist, a movie buff, a father, a daughter, a cousin - these are all the things that make up you. Your identity is not just about who you're attracted to or sleep with.
  6. Avoid the temptation to trivialize, criticize, or demean your friend, or to insist that they will "get over it." It's not a phase.
  7. Put yourself in your friend's position. Think about what you would do if you lived in a world where heterosexuality seemed strange, where it was not the norm, and how you would want someone you came out to to react. Now consider what your friend faces each and every day: they must find ways to exist and thrive in a society which sees him or her as out of place. It can make your friend feel lonely and isolated. LGBT people have to edit themselves constantly to avoid having confrontations, making people uncomfortable, or seeming unprofessional. Having a friend to count on, with whom they can be truly real and open, would be a tremendous blessing.
  8. Talk about it as long as your friend needs to and listen to your friend. Talking it out can help the two of you process your feelings and attitudes about it, and it can help you make up your mind about how to deal with it from a position of understanding and knowledge. Respect your friend's limits. This conversation is not about you. It is about them.
  9. Trust your friend to respect your friendship. In some cases, your first instinct may be to think, "Hey - just don't try anything with me." It's a kneejerk response, and you should try to relax about it. Your friend will not necessarily put the moves on you. Again, think: Do you put the moves on everyone of the opposite gender? Of course you don't; neither will your friend. However, that's not to say your friend would never develop feelings for you. If that should happen, once again, trust your friend, simply tell them that you are straight, and stand by that - and do not waver from that. You may find yourself feeling flattered that your friend is attracted to you, and become curious. Even if you wish to experiment or dabble with a bisexual encounter, never indulge your curiosity - that is taking advantage of your friendship. See the warnings and tips below for more on this.
  10. Accept that you aren't going to change your friend's orientation. There is significant controversy surrounding the idea of whether sexual orientation is a choice, but to your friend there is no doubt, and if you want to be a good friend, take their word for it. Avoid any language which describes their orientation as a decision or a lifestyle. Treat you friend's orientation no differently than you treat their height or shoe size- things that are okay to talk about if they are comfortable with it but by no means need to be a part of every conversation. Acceptance and compassion are far more beneficial than attempts to re-direct a person's sexual orientation.[1][2][3][4]
  11. Support your friend when you are needed most. They trust you enough to reveal a very deeply personal part of themselves to you. Even if you disapprove initially, don't take this trust lightly. At the very least, receive the news with calm, consider it carefully as you talk it through, and then reflect on it. If you eventually decide that you cannot maintain the friendship, tell your friend. Even if you disapprove, your friend deserves your careful, thoughtful consideration. Just remember you are important enough to your friend that they exposed themselves to you.
  12. Keep your friend's confidence. Even after all this reflection, if you feel like you can't accept this and still maintain a friendship, remember the history you had as friends and be respectful of your friend's privacy, even though you have decided to sever the relationship. It's not necessary to broadcast the reasons you decided to let the friendship go when you speak with others - simply say "we were in different places in our lives, and we've drifted apart."


  • Remember, how you react says more about you than it does your friend. If you have negative feelings about your friend's orientation, feel uncomfortable or challenged in any way, take some time to sit and think about how you are feeling and the beliefs you have that make you feel this way. Address these issues by seeking out someone to talk to, finding information, or getting some support. Take responsibility for yourself, your feelings, and your beliefs. Remember, they are entitled to love whoever they want and although it may feel weird, you have no right to tell them who they can and can't love.
  • Educate yourself: understanding the issues and the history of the LGBT community can make things easier to understand and eventually easier to accept. Some great resources include and Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
  • If your friend is dating someone, meet that person. This shows you have genuine interest in your friend's life. Also, meeting your friend's significant other will give you the opportunity to meet others like your friend, which may help you gain more of an understanding for the way your friend feels.
  • Talking also helps iron out what you don't understand. The last thing you want to do if you don't understand something is to leave it a mystery. Ask questions and you will get answers. But do remember that your friend is just one individual and can't speak for all LGBTQ people - they will have an opinion, but it may not be a blanket answer for all LGBTQ folks. If your friend doesn't seem to know answers to the questions you ask, then try to find them together.
  • If your friend should confess that they have feelings for you, or are attracted to you, don't make a big deal of it. There are very few people who are unable or unwilling to accept an answer of "I'm flattered, but I'm straight." The most common reason these situations get out of control or go bad is when the "straight person" decides to work out their curiosity with the LGBT friend. That is a bad idea. If you're curious, go meet someone else to experiment with. Do not do it with your friend, even if they express some feelings outside of friendship for you. Nobody likes being used. Keep things clear and open, and don't dabble with your buddy. Of course, if it turns out you really do have some feelings for your friend, talking it out with them can really help - it may be that your friend is willing to take the chance with you. But definitely, you should make it very clear that you are interested in experimenting because of your very deep feelings, and that you are not sure where those feelings will lead, if anywhere. Be as honest as you know how.
  • If you are worried about him or her hitting on you, relax. Most friends won't (other than in jest). If your friend does, just politely tell them to please stop, as if he or she were a member of the gender that you are attracted to, who you have no interest in.
  • Find a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays) group in your area, they are a great source of support. Many local high schools and colleges now have organizations that are supportive of LGBTQ people. Not only can these groups help you find compassion and understanding for your friend, they can also help you by giving you a new peer group who can help you figure out how to relate to and support your friend.
  • If you feel uncomfortable with the fact that your friend is a certain sexuality,talk to him/her about it and maybe they can help you feel more relaxed with the fact that they came out to you.


  • Don't hit on your friend, or send mixed signals. It's not cool to flirt with your friend just because you feel safe doing it, unless it's clearly a joke and everyone watching understands that. Your friend is not your personal toy, and you shouldn't use him or her as a plaything.
  • Take the time to process the news before you react too strongly. The way you feel about this news today may seem really overblown tomorrow. Even if your initial reaction is negative, try to simply take the revelation in for now. Today, simply absorb and process. Tomorrow or the day after that, you will have gained new perspective on the entire issue.

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Sources and Citations

  1. The American Psychiatric Association - COPP Position Statement on Therapies Focused on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation (Reparative or Conversion Therapies)
  2. The American Psychological Association - Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation
  3. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy - Haworth Medical Press, Volume 7, Issue 1, pages 55-73. Date accessed: 2007-10-13
  4. Royal College of Psychiatrists - Special Interest Group Report - Report limited to the origins of sexuality and the psychological and social well being of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.