Your friend who you love, admire, and respect shared with you that they identify as LGBTQ. This can be a very confusing and difficult time for you as you work to figure out what exactly this means for your friend, yourself, and your friendship.
What does LGBTQ mean?
The acronym LGBTQ is used to describe the community of people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer.
* When someone identifies as Lesbian or Gay, they are attracted to members of the same gender.
* When someone identifies as Bisexual, they are attracted to multiple genders.
* When someone identifies as Transgender, the sex they assigned at birth does not correspond with their personal identity and gender.
* Queer is a general term used to describe someone of a sexual and/or gender minority who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender.
When someone comes out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, this has to do with their sexual orientation, or who they are attracted to sexually and/or romantically. A gay, lesbian, or bisexual person may end up in a relationship with someone of the same gender, or in a relationship that is otherwise “non-heteronormative” — meaning that the two people in the relationship do not identify as straight and cisgender.
When someone comes out as transgender, this has to do with their gender identity. A transgender person may also find that coming out as trans affects their sexual orientation. Transgender people may choose to make their public identity better match their personal identity by asking people to use different pronouns or a new name for them, by dressing in a way that corresponds more with their own identity and gender, or by medically transitioning through hormone therapy or even surgery.
How does my friend know they are LGBTQ?
Sexual orientation and gender identity is not just about sex or physical attraction. It is something so baked into our souls that it is almost impossible to explain why or how it is. Sexual identity is such a part of our identity that it cannot be separated out from who we are at our core. Just as you would probably have a difficult time explaining how you know that you are straight or cisgender, your friend may not be able to articulate how he or she knows that they are LGBTQ. That does not make it any less valid or true. Trust them and remember that no one knows your friend better than themselves.
How can my friend be LGBTQ and a Christian?
There is still a lot of tension surrounding the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the Christian Church, especially the more conservative denominations and sects. Some people aren’t sure what to believe what God says about sexual orientations and relationships which are not heterosexual because the Bible is not clear. Others interpret the Bible as very straight-forward about LGBTQ individuals and relationships, believing that it is not God’s plan for anyone. Still others are confident that God affirms and blesses same-gender or other non-heteronormative relationships just the same as straight and cisgender relationships. Regardless of what you or your friend believes, it is possible to be a LGBTQ Christian.
The Reformation Project, “A Brief Biblical Case”
Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian
How do I respond when I believe…
When someone you love and respect comes out as LGBTQ, it can be difficult to understand and it is sometimes hard to know how to respond. This is especially difficult if you do not believe this is God’s best for your friend or that God does not bless relationships other than heterosexual ones. The good news is that there are good, loving, and beneficial ways for you to respond no matter what you believe about LGBTQ people and their relationships.
1. …that God affirms LGBTQ people and blesses same-gender or non-heteronormative relationships?
Rejoice with them! There will inevitably be people who criticize your friend for coming out and being open about their sexual orientation, gender identity, and romantic relationships. They will need people like you to be excited for them as they begin this journey.
Remind them how courageous they are for embracing their true selves. This is often a very scary time of uncertainty. Take the time to reassure your friend how brave they are and that you will stand with them.
There are many ways to support someone who is LGBTQ and even rejoice with them.
* Check in about how their family, friends, and church is supporting or not supporting them. If they need to find a new religious community or to mourn negative reactions from family and friends, you can be supportive.
* If they choose to come out publicly on social media, comment on their post with love and support. If they get negative reactions on the post, ask them privately before arguing with their friends and family. The most important thing for you to do is be supportive.
* When your friend begins to date, support them and celebrate with them. Involve their significant other in activities just as you would for any friend’s new SO.
* If your friend is transgender and begins a transitioning process, support them as they figure out how to best embody the gender they identify with. They may need support with simple things like shaving, going shopping for new clothes, applying makeup, or using a gendered bathroom.
2. … that the Bible is not clear about God’s affirmation or condemnation of LGBTQ relationships, therefore I am not certain what to believe?
It can be confusing and difficult to know what you believe, especially if this is the first person close to you to come out as LGBTQ. That’s okay! The Bible may not specifically address this issue, but it does give us some very clear instruction about how to treat the people around us. An expert in the law once asked Jesus which commandment is the most important, and Jesus responded with this answer:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
This situation is no different than any other. We are commanded to love each other deeply and this is truly the best thing you can do for your friend right now.
Tell them you are there for them – and be there when they need you. Your friend may be losing people close to them who disagree with their decision to come out as LGBTQ. They need you now more than ever to simply be available and to listen to them.
Ask respectful questions. Oftentimes, questions are welcomed (and even desired!) but if you notice that your friend shies away from certain questions or topics, be respectful of that and steer clear of those conversations in the future.
Don’t ask them what they believe what the Bible says about LGBTQ people and relationships. This may feel to your friend like you don’t believe their sexuality and/or relationship is valid, even if you don’t mean it that way. Also, a lot of people who are just discovering their sexual orientation or gender identity can be very confused and they may not even know what they believe. It’s best to stay away from questions like this.
3. …that the Bible clearly rejects LGBTQ people and I do not believe God desires non-heteronormative relationships for us?
It’s possible that you believe this. It may feel like an inconsistency in theology at first and, if you continue to feel unsettled in your heart and soul, it’s okay to explore the possibility that God does indeed affirm LGBTQ people and bless same-gender or non-heteronormative relationships. However, if you continue to feel convicted that LGBTQ people and non-heteronormative relationships are not in God’s plan for us, there is good news for you too! You do not have to automatically change your beliefs overnight to support and love your friend. The Bible tells us that we can have diversity without division and unity without total uniformity. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes to the church in Corinth about this issue, referring to the Church as a physical Body of Christ. Paul reminds them that “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).
Don’t use the Bible as a weapon. It can feel as though that is the most loving thing to do if you believe that fully accepting an LGBTQ identity is not God’s best for your friend, but it will only feel hurtful and scary to them. Remember Jesus’ command to love.
Tell them you love them. Your friend is the exact same person as they were before they told you they identify as LGBTQ. Focus on this!
Thank them for trusting you enough to share this with you. It can be scary to be vulnerable with people, even those closest to us, but your friend chose you to trust right now. That’s an honor!
No matter what you believe about LGBTQ people, it is important to respect your friend’s trust and process. “Outing” them by sharing their story without permission could likely be painful or even traumatic for them, and would make their journey much more difficult. Respect how and where they want to share their story, and never share it without asking or being given permission first.
Further Reading from Members of the LGBTQ Community
Kevin Garcia, “When a Friend says ‘I love you, but…’” (2015)
Matthias Roberts, “How to Respond When a Loved One Comes Out” (2014)
Julie Rodgers, “How I Was Moved to Support Same-Sex Marriage in the Church”
Further Reading from Straight Allies
Jennifer McGrail, The Path Less Taken, “On Being a Straight, Christian Ally” (2015)
Evelyn Shoop, Believe Out Loud, “Staying Silent No More: I Am a Christian Ally” (2014)
Kathy Baldock, CanyonWalker Connections, “Becoming Christian Allies for the LGBT Community” (2011)