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From sharing closet space to coming out of the closet

Dear Alice,

When I came to Columbia, my roommate and I got along really well. We still do. However, three weeks into the year, I learned that he is gay. I have no problems with this, I'd like to think that I'm open-minded — but can you give me some advice on how to handle this relationship?

—The Heterosexual Roommate

Dear The Heterosexual Roommate, 

It's important to start off by reminding yourself that your roommate is the same person now that he was when you first met him. The fact that your roommate is gay needn't affect your relationship as roommates or friends. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) people live with, and are friends with, people of many different identities. Your roommate's sexual orientation is probably just one of the ways in which he is different from you, and it sounds as though you're an open-minded person who appreciates the differences among friends. 

It isn't clear from your question whether your roommate told you himself that he’s gay, or whether you heard about it from others. If he told you himself, he may be open to discussing any questions you might have. However, you won’t know this unless you have a conversation with him, at which point, he may or may not choose to answer those questions, which is his right. On the other hand, if you learned that your roommate was gay from someone other than your roommate himself and you have questions, it’s still recommended that you ask to have a conversation with him. The earlier on in your living situation that can two can be open and communicate about your potential concerns, the more likely it is that you can have a more peaceful living relationship in the future. 

If your roommate came out to you himself, it could be a sign of trust. People usually come out to individuals that they trust, so consider thanking him for sharing this information. You can also assure him that you’ll respect his confidentiality. If you have questions about the details of living together, it’s possible that your roommate may share many of the same questions or concerns you have. For example, you might want to ask about how you both feel if he were to bring a person home at night, just as he might want to talk about what to do if you were to bring someone home. This issue, similar to many others, often has to do with sharing a residential space with someone rather than their identity. 

Navigating the roommate concerns for what they are—the mundane issues of two people living with each other—and not making sexuality an issue, is a great way to show your roommate that you appreciate him for who he is. It’s important that you both feel comfortable in your living situation, so continuing to keep an open mind is a great start. Speaking out against anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination and confronting your own biases are other ways in which you can be both an ally, and a supportive friend to your roommate. It’s also good to remember that, while you know that your roommate is gay, other people may not. Unless he has told you otherwise, consider your roommate’s privacy and don’t assume that everyone else also knows about his sexuality. For more information about sexuality, and about being an ally, check out the Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) website.  

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Last updated Jun 30, 2023
Originally published Oct 01, 1993