LGBTQ Identity Questions

What if students have LGBTQ+ Identity questions?

When a student comes out to you…and tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer

When a student comes out to you and tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) your initial response is important. The student has likely spent time in advance thinking about whether or not to tell you, and when and how to tell you.

Tips to help you support the student

Offer support but don’t assume a student needs any help

The student may be completely comfortable with their sexual orientation or gender identity and may not need help dealing with it or be in need of any support. It may be that the student just wanted to tell someone, or just simply to tell you so you might know them better. Offer and be available to support the student as they come out to others.

Be a role model of acceptance

Always model good behavior by using inclusive language and setting an accepting environment by not making assumptions about people’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and by addressing others’ (adults and students) biased language, and addressing stereotypes and myths about LGBTQ people. By demonstrating that you are respectful of LGBTQ people and intolerant of homophobia and transphobia, LGBTQ students are more likely to see you as a supportive educator.

Appreciate the student’s courage

There is often a risk in telling someone something personal, especially sharing for the first time one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, when it is generally not considered the norm. Consider someone’s coming out a gift and thank them for giving that gift to you. Sharing this personal information with you means that the student respects and trusts you.

Listen, listen, listen

One of the best ways to support a student is to hear them out and let the student know you are there to listen. Coming out is a long process, and chances are you’ll be approached again to discuss this process, the challenges and the joys of being out at school.

Assure and respect confidentiality

The student told you and may or may not be ready to tell others. Let the student know that the conversation is confidential and that you won’t share the information with anyone else, unless they ask for your help. If they want others to know, doing it in their own way with their own timing is important. Respect their privacy.

Ask questions that demonstrate understanding, acceptance and compassion

  • Have you been able to tell anyone else?
  • Has this been a secret you have had to keep from others or have you told other people?
  • Do you feel safe in school? Supported by the adults in your life?
  • Do you need any help of any kind? Resources or someone to listen?
  • Have I ever offended you unknowingly?

Remember that the student has not changed

They are still the same person you knew before the disclosure; you just have more information about them, which might improve your relationship. Let the student know that you feel the same way about them as you always have and that they are still the same person. If you are shocked, try not to let the surprise lead you to view or treat the student any differently.

Challenge traditional norms

You may need to consider your own beliefs about sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender roles. Do not expect people to conform to societal norms about gender or sexual orientation.

Be prepared to give a referral

If there are questions you cannot answer, or if the student does need some emotional support, be prepared to refer them to the Counseling Center or Multicultural Programs/LGBTQ+ Student Services.

Additional things to keep in mind when a student comes out to you as transgender

Validate the person’s gender identity and expression

It is important to use the pronoun appropriate to the gender presented or that the person requests – this is showing respect. In other words, if someone identifies as female, then refer to the person as she; if they identify as male, refer to the person as he. Or use gender neutral language. Never use the word “it” when referring to a person, to do so is insulting and disrespectful.

Remember that gender identity is separate from sexual orientation

Knowing someone is transgender does not provide you with any information about their sexual orientation.

What not to say when someone comes out to you

  • “I knew it!”
  • This makes the disclosure about you and not the student, and you might have been making an assumption based on stereotypes.

  • “Are you sure?” “You’re just confused.” “It’s just a phase – it will pass.”
  • This suggests that the student does not know who they are.

  • “You just haven’t found a good woman yet” said to a male or “a good man yet” said to a female.
  • This assumes that everyone is straight or should be.

  • “Shhh, don’t tell anyone.”
  • This implies that there is something wrong and that being LGBTQ must be kept hidden. If you have real reason to believe that disclosing this information will cause the student harm, then make it clear that is your concern. Say “Thanks for telling me. We should talk about how tolerant our school and community is. You may want to consider how this may affect your decision about who to come out to.”

  • “You can’t be gay – you’ve had relationships with people of the opposite sex.”
  • This refers only to behavior, while sexual orientation is about inner feelings.

Do not encourage students to come out to people before they are ready.

Taken from the GLSEN safe space kit.  Found at

Additional resources