It is not uncommon for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) young people to spend years working up the courage to come out to their parents, family and friends. LGBT youth tend to fear rejection by those closest to them and feel isolated, as if they are the only ones who feel the way they do. They often fear being "discovered" at school by saying the wrong thing or dressing a certain way. And they feel pressure to fit in by laughing at homophobic jokes told at school or in the locker room.
It is important for straight allies to understand how a closeted youth may feel before making the decision to come out. If the news is met with a negative reaction, it can be very damaging to someone revealing such raw emotions.
For LGBT youth, it is just as important for them to understand that they've had years to wrestle with their feelings, but parents and friends may experience the initial surprise — or shock — of being presented with this new information. Initial reactions are often unexpected, and both sides should allow for mistakes to be made. Be prepared to forgive.
Once the young person comes out, they should know they are no longer alone. Many high schools and colleges already have groups where LGBT youth and straight allies come together for support and friendship. To find out more or to learn about starting a gay-straight group in your school, check out the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
For information on creating a safe space for LGBT people and their allies at your college or university, check out Campus PrideNet. Also, the Lambda 10 Project is a great resource for LGBT fraternity and sorority members and straight allies.
TrevorSpace is a social networking site for LGBT youth ages 13 through 24 and their friends and allies.
Rejection and peer pressure can often lead to thoughts of suicide. The Trevor Project offers a 24-hour helpline for gay and questioning teens: toll free 866-488-7386.