Outing is the act of sharing or disclosing someone else’s LGBTQ+ status (their sexual orientation or gender identity) without that person’s permission. You may have heard about Nikkie de Jager being blackmailed about her identity as a trans woman. She ultimately was forced to come out as trans in a way and at a time that she did not want to. While “outing” can mean directly sharing a person’s identity, it can also include sharing information that that could lead someone to understand that a person is LGBTQ+. This means with peers, friends, school staff, parents or families, or other people they interact with.
Outing someone can be upsetting or even traumatizing to that person, or can result in them experiencing violence or other dangerous situations. Even if the risks for one individual person are not that severe, it’s still not ok to share someone’s personal identity without their permission. If someone wants to share their identity with others, that’s great, but it is important that they be the one to decide if, when, how, and to who they come out. If someone gives you consent to share their LGBTQ+ status, then it’s not considered outing. However, much like sexual consent, someone can say it’s OK to share their status in one situation and not OK to share in another one and someone can change their mind. So it’s best to be cautious when talking about someone’s LGBTQ identity. Someone may be comfortably out in some situations, like at school, and not out in others, like at home or in an after-school activity. Outing can even be illegal, for example, if a school outs a student to their parents or family.
Check out our tips to be careful to not accidentally out a friend or peer:
1. Think before you speak.
It may sounds obvious, but slow down when talking about someone you don’t want to out. You may not be directly talking about their identity, but remember that small things like pronouns can be giveaways. You can always change the topic, brush off any questions, or not talk about them all together, if that’s more comfortable.
2. Talk to your friend!
Have a conversation with your LGBTQ+ friend about where and how they are out. Being clear about who knows and who doesn’t know can help you find the lines to stay within. If you have any questions about who you can share this information with, like your parents, partner, BFF, etc., ask your friend for clarity.
3. Remember it’s not your identity to share.
You may be really excited about your friend’s identity. You may feel shocked, or have other feelings of your own. But don’t forget, this is NOT your information to share. If you need to talk to someone else about your friend and their identity, consider a confidential person like a therapist or school counselor. You can also check in with your friend and ask if you can talk about their identity with your parent or other trusted adult.
It’s awesome to encourage someone to take control of their own stories but it is never ok to out someone. If you want to learn more, check out GLSEN, an organization that works to ensure schools are supportive of LGBTQ+ students, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood.