There is no one way to come out but there is one thing everyone needs: support. As a mentor you have a great opportunity to be there for your Little as they try and navigate this process. Not all LGBTQ+ youth have the ability to come out due to fear of how their family may react. If you are supportive, your Little may feel less isolated and alone which can help them become more comfortable with sharing their true selves with others if they feel safe to do so.
- If someone is choosing to come out to you, it shows that you are important to them. Reassure them of your continued mentorship and support. This is important as they may be afraid that you will reject them, and that they would lose you as a mentor. Be the mentor you have always been.
- Try not to react badly, even if you have strong feelings about LGBTI+ issues. If you judge your Little, or express disapproval, you will do nothing to change your Little’s identity, but you will hurt them and make them feel rejected and uncared for. It is also important to remember the potential impact rejection by friends and family can have on the mental health and well-being of LGBTI+ people.
- Offer your Little a hug – it could mean a lot to them.
- You might feel hurt that they hadn’t told you before, but try to remember the challenges and fears LGBTI+ people often face in being open about their identity.
- Respect your Little’s privacy – it is up to them to decide if, when, and how they tell other people.
- Just because your Little is LGBTI+ doesn’t mean that everyone will think you are.
- You may be curious, but be sensitive when asking questions. Don’t ask questions that would have been considered rude or inappropriate within your mentoring relationship before they came out to you.
- Your Little may not want you to do anything. They may just need someone to listen and be positive.
- Offer to support your Little in whatever way they need, for example support them in coming out to others or to their families. Help them to find information about local LGBTI+ groups and offer to accompany them if they want to have a friend with them.
- Learn more about LGBTI+ issues and the LGBTI+ community. This will help you to better understand and support your Little. But remember, everyone’s experience is different.
- Continue to do what you have always done together. LGBTI+ people often fear that coming out will change everything in their lives and this can be frightening. If you have always played football with your Little on match outings, continue to do this.
- It’s never too late. If someone has come out to you before and you reacted badly, you can always contact them and try again.
- Be an LGBTI+ Ally. Challenge homophobic comments, attitudes, and help to create LGBTI+ friendly environments.
- You could make it easier for friends to come out to you by making it clear that you are positive and respectful about LGBTI+ people. For example, if they have heard you challenge homophobic comments or talk comfortably about LGBTI+ issues and people, this could help to reduce any anxiety they have about coming out to you.
Knowing the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation is crucial. Gender identity is one’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth. Sexual orientation is an inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.
Terminology withing gender, sexual orientation, and sexuality:
Ally | A person who is not LGBTQ but shows support for LGBTQ people and promotes equality in a variety of ways.
Androgynous | Identifying and/or presenting as neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine.
Asexual | The lack of a sexual attraction or desire for other people.
Biphobia | Prejudice, fear or hatred directed toward bisexual people.
Bisexual | A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.
Cisgender | A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Closeted | Describes an LGBTQ person who has not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Coming out | The process in which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates their sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to share that with others.
Gay | A person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender.
Gender dysphoria | Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term – which replaces Gender Identity Disorder – “is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.”
Gender-expansive | Conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary gender system.
Gender expression | External appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.
Gender-fluid | According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a person who does not identify with a single fixed gender; of or relating to a person having or expressing a fluid or unfixed gender identity.
Gender identity | One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
Gender non-conforming | A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.
Genderqueer | Genderqueer people typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as “genderqueer” may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female or as falling completely outside these categories.
Gender transition | The process by which some people strive to more closely align their internal knowledge of gender with its outward appearance. Some people socially transition, whereby they might begin dressing, using names and pronouns and/or be socially recognized as another gender. Others undergo physical transitions in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions.
Homophobia | The fear and hatred of or discomfort with people who are attracted to members of the same sex.
Intersex | An umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, these traits are visible at birth, and in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal variations of this type may not be physically apparent at all.
Lesbian | A woman who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to other women.
LGBTQ | An acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.”
Living openly | A state in which LGBTQ people are comfortably out about their sexual orientation or gender identity – where and when it feels appropriate to them.
Non-binary | An adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories. While many also identify as transgender, not all non-binary people do.
Outing | Exposing someone’s lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identity to others without their permission. Outing someone can have serious repercussions on employment, economic stability, personal safety or religious or family situations.
Pansexual | Describes someone who has the potential for emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to people of any gender though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.
Queer | A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with “LGBTQ.”
Questioning | A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Same-gender loving | A term some prefer to use instead of lesbian, gay or bisexual to express attraction to and love of people of the same gender.
Sex assigned at birth | The sex (male or female) given to a child at birth, most often based on the child’s external anatomy. This is also referred to as “assigned sex at birth.”
Sexual orientation | An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.
Transgender | An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.
Transphobia | The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, transgender people.
- AIDS Foundation Chicago – Their vision is that people living with HIV or chronic conditions will thrive.
- Brave Space Alliance – BSA is a vehicle to empower and elevate queer and trans voices, particularly those belonging to people of color, to allow our communities a seat at the table on key decision making processes that impact the community of Chicago.
- Center on Halsted – Their Youth Program creates a safe and confidential environment for young people ages 13–24 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, or who are straight allies (LGBTQIA). Youth programming at Center on Halsted offers a nurturing and supportive environment where youth and young adults can thrive. With a variety of programs and services, from cultural and event programming to case management and leadership development, we are committed to supporting LGBTQIA youth and young adults in a holistic manner.
- Chicago House – a social service organization that supports individuals impacted by HIV/AIDS and the broader LGBTQ community with housing, health, and employment support.
- Equality Illinois – Equality Illinois builds a better Illinois by advancing equal treatment and full acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
- Howard Brown Health – Howard Brown exists to eliminate the disparities in healthcare experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through research, education and the provision of services that promote health and wellness.
- Broadway Youth Center at Howard Brown Health – The mission of BYC is to make life healthier and happier for young people (12-24) who are transgender, queer, lesbian, bisexual, gay, and especially young people who do not have stable housing. All of our services are for youth, ages 12 to 24. BYC sees anyone, regardless of ability to pay.
- Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) – ICAH is a network of empowered youth and adult accomplices who transform public consciousness and increase the capacity of school, family and healthcare systems to support the sexual health, rights, and identities of youth. They educate, advocate, and organize for reproductive justice in Illinois, transforming public consciousness and envisioning a world in which all young adults use their power to achieve health and well-being in their own lives and for their communities.
- Illinois Safe Schools Alliance – Recognizing the importance of inclusive policies within educational entities and human rights agencies, the Alliance staff, Board and volunteers work with key partners on policy and advocacy initiatives with schools, school districts and government agencies at local, regional and state levels. Please contact Grecia Magdaleno (they/them), the Policy and Advocacy Director, for more information.
- JCFS Chicago – JCFS Chicago provides information, education, support and more for LGBTQ youth, young adults and their families and allies.
- LGBT Immigrant Rights Project at the ALMA –Works with agencies, non-profit organizations, and legislative offices across the city to support key efforts aimed at addressing LGBT priorities within the immigrant rights movement. A key part of this effort is leading the activities of the emerging, non-partisan, LGBT Immigrant Rights Coalition of Chicago, including helping member organizations pass institutional policies that address these priorities.
- PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois – PFLAG’s mission is to build on a foundation of loving families united with LGBTQ people and allies who support one another, and to educate ourselves and our communities to speak up as advocates until all hearts and minds respect, value and affirm LGBTQ people. PFLAG has over 15 chapters in Northern Illinois. Each chapter meets monthly to provide support, education and advocacy. Click here to find your local chapter.
- Queery – Comprehensive and Searchable online directory of LGBTQ Services for Chicagoland!
- GLSEN – Every student has the right to a safe, supportive, and LGBTQ-inclusive K-12 education. GLSEN is a national network of educators, students, and local chapters working to make this right a reality.
- Point Foundation | The National LGBTQ Scholarship Fund – Point Foundation empowers promising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential – despite the obstacles often put before them – to make a significant impact on society.
- Trevor Project – The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.