As a trans student at Duquesne University I faced several difficulties when coming out. If you are a professor or peer of someone in the LGBTQIA+ community and you’d like to help them feel safe with you/in your class, this is a great place to start.
All my professors and peers had multiple questions for me just after I came out. This is a totally normal reaction, but it should be a controlled one. Coming out is a scary experience while simultaneously being extremely personal. You should keep this in mind when someone comes out to you as it will help you control your response and make them as comfortable as possible.
The first thing you should do is limit questions until you are certain that the person feels comfortable speaking to you. In some cases, there is nothing that you can do to make them comfortable as they’re already extremely on edge. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try your best to make them comfortable though. When they first come out to you start with things like “I’m really glad you felt comfortable telling me” or “Your identity is valid, and I will do what I can to make you feel welcomed and safe”. Opening with these things, instead of something like “Oh what does that mean” or “Yeah I kind of figured” reassures the person that you are on their side. Quickly asking them to elaborate is a great response as well. Try something like “Could you elaborate to help me understand?”.
Often overlooked is allowing the person who is coming out to you to speak briefly about their experience. Just remember not everyone will want to. Personally, it makes me feel better to briefly describe the situation and get some of the frequently asked questions out of the way so that I can move the conversation to a more productive place.
If you feel the person is comfortable, first ask what you can do to make them feel safe. They will gladly tell you exactly what to do. If you have any other questions past this, be sure to first ask the most important thing; “Is it ok if I ask a few more questions?”. This is a step that affirms to them you are on their side. Anything but aside from yes should be taken as a no in this situation. If they are open to questions be sure to keep the phrasing positive and reassuring. Any negativity or hostility could cause the person to shut you out.
A note regarding transgender people specifically: While we understand that it can be hard to remember our chosen name at times, constantly using it more than you would other peoples makes us feel singled out.
The best way to make someone in the LGBTQIA+ community feel comfortable is to be reassuring and have basic respect for them.