The Youth Group’s Closet: When a Youth Comes Out (part 2)


6100090811_4147cb8d2d_b

There are a number of reasons why a student might choose to come out to more than one person at a time.  They might be concerned about gossip and hearsay, and telling everyone at once ensures no one hears about their sexual orientation through the rumour mill.  They might be testing the waters, attempting to find out quickly whether or not your group will be a safe space for them to be honest about who they are.  Regardless of their reasons, your response is likely the response they will be watching most closely.  The rest of the youth in your group will also be watching closely to see what you say and do.  This is both a blessing and a curse: you have the responsibility not only to love this particular teen well, but also to model to the rest of your youth and leadership how to respond well to a teen who opens up about anything vulnerable.

When a student comes out in a group setting

When youth come out in the context of a youth ministry gathering, whether it’s at a bible study, camp or other event, we often jump to react (sometimes in panic), and don’t stop to celebrate the fact that we successfully fostered a space where someone can be honest with themselves and others.  People feel safe and open enough to share deeper experiences and questions in the community you lead – this is a sign that you are doing something right! 

5761301967_b0e6791ecf_b

It’s a good idea to think in advance about how you might respond to this kind of situation in a way that honours the honesty and openness of the LGBTQ+ student.  Knee-jerk responses and facial expressions that communicate disgust or shock can shut down conversation in the group and lead other students to ask, “if this person is not safe to be themselves here, how do I know I am safe?”  How might our response help teach our youth to love others – even those we disagree with – rather than teaching them to reject what they don’t understand?  Here are some fairly simple guidelines to remember.

  1. Recognize the courage displayed by this student.  Even in contexts where the group is highly likely to respond with support, sharing this kind of thing is always nerve-wracking, and it can mean a lot to simply have that act of courage respected and honoured.

  2. Thank them for trusting the group with this part of themselves.

  3. Ask questions that allow them to tell you more about how they have felt leading up to this moment, and how they came to decide to share this with all of you at this time.  This is probably the easiest way to ensure that the person feels heard and cared about.  Consider a possible follow-up question such as, “What made you feel safe enough to share this with us now?”, “What has being in this group with this secret been like for you?” or, “Have you come out to any of your family members – how did they react?”

  4. Affirm that they are still the same person they were before they came out, and will continue to be treated in the same way.  By saying something to this effect, you signal to the other members of the group what your expectations are for their own responses, and you remind everyone that they can feel free to be honest about their thoughts and doubts and experiences in this space.

  5. Admit that this is a new situation for your group, especially if you have any uncertainty about how to respond.  Let them know that you might have to take some time to do your own homework to get to a better understanding or decide what comes next for your group.

  6. Ask how your group can best support this person.

  7. Follow up with the student, who may be feeling vulnerable after sharing. Check in with them the next day to see how they’re feeling, and how they feel their disclosure went.

This scenario could be a catalyst for your group to do some heavy thinking and growing together as you process what happened.  Consider seeking out some other Christian LGBTQ+ stories to listen to together, either as a leadership team or as a whole youth group.  One fantastic resource – the film Through My Eyes – has been made freely accessible by The Gay Christian Network.  If you decide to enter a learning process with your whole group, be sure to talk to your LGBTQ+ student(s) about it first.  Ask whether and how they would like to be involved, and what their hopes and concerns would be moving forward.


9418410921_e7acc310d6_b


When a student comes out online

There are a few added dynamics that come into play when a public coming out happens online.  On the positive side, it often means that you have more time to formulate and edit your response, and you don’t have to be as concerned about managing the facial expressions or body language that accompany your initial reaction.  On the other hand, this could be more complex, as it may not only be your youth or leaders who are watching your response online.  I have heard several stories about people who were fired from their youth ministry positions for expressing support for an LGBTQ+ student on social media.  Whether or not you think your job is at risk, responding to a public outing online opens you up to judgment from many different angles.

When you notice that one of your youth comes out online, you basically have three options.


The first option is silence.