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Way to end the stigma and support the LGBTQ+ community

The initialism ‘LGBTQ+’ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning) and others. The initialism, and some of its common variants, functions is an umbrella term for sexuality and gender identity. But you know all that, didn’t you? Well, I hope you did.

It is not very uncommon to see people mocking each other with the terms ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ without actually realising that they are referring to a group of people. The lack of information about the LGBTQ+ community among Indians has led to common misconceptions and widespread stigma, stemming from ancient Indian culture. Even in the modern-day populace, people still refer to same-sex relationships as highly atrocious. However, living conditions and media representation have been improving in recent years, especially in terms of the representation of transgender people commonly known as the hijra community.

Yet, the real question that arises from all the information stated above is — how can we help in supporting and building a safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community? Well suppose you have a friend who has been contemplating coming out, how do you help them and give them the support that they need?

Coming out of the closet can seem fairly scary when someone thinks they’re alone and if that someone is your friend, the best thing you can do is provide them with proper emotional support and guidance. Nonetheless, that can only happen if you are aware of how you should react and what they need to hear.

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”- Mother Teresa

Similarly, coming out can mean a lot to anyone from the community. It can be an emotionally daunting phase of life, one that swings from frustration about hiding your identity to feeling anxious about finding acceptance from your loved ones. Therefore, to ease the process a little, here are a few pointers you could look out for while providing meaningful support to a friend:

 Provide them with a safe space - A person who has trusted you enough to come out to you,  should know that you won't judge them and listen to what they have to say. They need to hear that you are okay with whoever they are and choose to be. That you will always be their friend, no matter what. You can emit acceptance so that your friend feels assured about trusting you.

 Don’t pressurize them into doing anything - It is very vital for you and your friend to understand that coming out is a process. It is not easy for a person to confide in everyone in the initial stages so you should make sure that you don’t pressurize them into doing something they might regret later. Be certain that you don’t impose your help on them when they are not ready for the same.

 Be affirmative - Being positive for your friend who just came out to you is important and can be expressed in different ways. It’s common for LGBTQ+ people to be excluded or seen differently by family or friends after they come out. It’s important to realise that they have put a lot of thought into it and come to the conclusion that you are a safe person. You can show you care by being supportive. For example, if your friend changes their pronouns, use them, and don’t make a huge deal out of it if you mess them up. Just get them right the next time.

 React normally - One of the best ways you can respond to someone’s coming out is to under-react. This isn’t to say that you should seem uninterested and insensitive; rather allowing your friend to pilot the emotional weight of the conversation is important. You can react to it as if they are just telling you about some everyday thing. Be kind and let them talk about it in as much depth they would like, try to be present throughout the conversation and don’t become hyper-emotional.

 Ask if you can advocate them - Take consent from your friend before revealing their sexuality to larger groups of people. Make sure that they know and are alright with you telling your mutual friends/ peers that they identify as LGBTQ+. The aim is to balance the emotional and expressive labour that they shouldn’t have to hold on their own.

 Let them know that you are available - Try to check in with your friend at regular intervals so that they know that you can be emotionally as well as physically available if they need you.

In conclusion, be inspiring and kind, you have the power and ability to help, to heal and to be humble so don’t use it to hurt, harm or humiliate. We all have a choice and we can choose to be better for the ride of life.

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