That’s the thing about friendship: all it understands is the language of love. Not sexual identity. Which is exactly why many of us have BFFs from the LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual) community.
Now, if you too have been lucky enough to strike a chord with them, you know that it can sometimes be difficult to be a good friend to them in return. But here’s some expert advice on how you can actually be there for friend from this community:
1. Clear your own head first
“You need to confront your own prejudices and biases, even if it is uncomfortable for you to do so,” suggests Dr Richie Gupta, head of department, Plastic, Cosmetic & Reconstructive Surgery, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh and one of India’s leadinging experts in sex-change surgery.
This includes educating yourself, learning about the range of sexualities on the LGBT spectrum, using the right pronouns, and not using derogatory terms like homo and so on.
Additionally, if you hear someone make a derogatory joke or a crude comment–raise your voice against this prejudice and let them know you don’t appreciate it. Same rules apply to WhatsApp groups and social media, where offensive content is often circulated.
2. Be there for them emotionally
“Considering the challenges people from the LGBTQ community face in terms of grappling with their own identity, dealing with the stigma and lack of acceptance, and manoeuvring their course of life with such conflicts, emotional support from a friend is what can help them the most,” says Dr Samir Parikh, consultant psychiatrist and director, Fortis School’s Mental Health Programme.
Gestures like accompanying your friend to their first Pride parade or hanging up a rainbow flag in your car carry more weight than you may realize, adds Gupta.
3. Treat them like a friend, not as someone “different”
“Avoid being overly concerned and instead, accept the individual as a friend, whose sexual orientation does not have an impact on your relationship,” Parikh points out.
“Don’t try to talk about their sexual preference as a problem, include them in your social group, and refrain from labelling the individual,” he adds.
And remember that under no circumstance, should they feel like you’re embarrassed in their presence.
4. Be a patient listener
Rather than giving your unsolicited advice, focus on listening to their problems to understand them better. In fact, maintain confidentiality about their sexual identity if you’re asked to do so.
5. Encourage them to seek professional help when required
If your friend is experiencing sadness, anxiety, or stress that is interfering with their ability to get things done and live a fulfilling life, you can be there for them and encourage them to make an appointment with a mental health counsellor according to Gupta.