Challenges & Experiences of Students
Challenges faced by LGBTQI Students
LGBTQI students do not always have the option or opportunity to seek out someone with a similar background for assistance. In the early stages of acknowledging their sexual orientation, these students may feel like “I’m the only one around.” Isolation can also stem from a lack of supportive gathering places, peer friendships, and even dating partners.
There are relatively few openly “out” LGBTQI role models to look to for guidance, identity, or a sense of belonging. LGBTQI histories and cultures remain “closeted” in society, and frequently LGBTQI contributions to society and civilization remain unacknowledged. Invisibility can become magnified on a university campus, where campus functions, services, and attitudes are overwhelmingly skewed towards heterosexuality.
Widespread misrepresentations of what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered are perpetuated by the media, religious organizations, and homophobic attitudes. In addition to further distorting society’s understanding and empathy for what it means to be LGBTQI, these negative lies, inaccuracies, and stereotypes can often become internalized as shame by bisexuals, transgendered, lesbian, gay, and intersex students.
- Intimidation and Violence
Being LGBTQI means you are often surrounded by negative attitudes, crude jokes, and demeaning statements. Ridiculing homosexuality, or the use of the pejorative terms like “fag,” is often still commonplace in society. Violence against LGBTQI people (or even those heterosexuals who are perceived to be LGBTQI) can range from name-calling to physical assault.
Given the numerous challenges, it is difficult for many LGBTQI people to maintain integrity. With time, some LGBTQI people come to internalize (i.e., believe) the negative stereotypes, lies, and inaccuracies about their sexual orientation identity. Shame about the feelings they have for same-sex partners can often lead to depression, anxiety, and significant emotional stress. Low self-esteem can also lead to unsafe sex practices.
Many LGBTQI people risk loss of support, condemnation, and even familial rejection by coming out. Violence towards LGBTQI people is also another possible consequence. A significant number of LGBTQI children who have come out to their families are either kicked out of their home, or run away. Approximately 25% of homeless youths nationwide identify as LGBTQI.
LGBTQI students grow up knowing that challenges face them in employment, housing, and other basic areas of their life if they come out. Many of the “privileges” that come with being heterosexual are unavailable to them, including speaking comfortably about their romantic interests, openly showing affection to their partner, and even marriage.
Adapted from Northern Illinois University
Safe Zone Program Ally Handbook
What it means to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Intersex at CSULB
The following are some experiences that LGBTQI students may have …
- It means sitting in fearful silence in class while those around you argue that you have no right to love, no right to be, and your professor says nothing to counter their ignorance.
- Or when you do speak up to defend the lives and rights of gay people you are attacked for being over-reactive or for taking things too personally.
- It means not fully participating in campus life, because if you do take your same-gender date to a campus dance or fraternity/sorority mixer you will be ostracized and made to feel uncomfortable.
- It means holding back from being openly affectionate with your same-gender girlfriend/boyfriend while the heterosexual students around you are touching, holding hands with and kissing their partners.
- It means never feeling comfortable in heterosexual social settings on campus because all of the students around you don’t really know who you are and you don’t know how to tell them.
- It means being ridiculed, stared at, laughed at by students who don’t even know you, but who have heard you are lesbian/gay.
- It means always being on your guard—having to tell lies about yourself and feeling bad about it.
- It means being met with silence and downward glances when you do finally find the right moment to let a teacher or fellow student know that you are lesbian/gay.
- It means having the student newspaper print one of your articles or letters after editing out any references you made to the fact that you are lesbian/gay.
- It means going along and pretending when you’re with heterosexual students who comment on the attractiveness of someone of the opposite sex, even though you want to tell them the truth about yourself.
- It means tolerating or even laughing at “fag” and “dyke” jokes, because you’re afraid others will discover your secret.
- It means suspecting that some other student is lesbian/gay, but never having the courage to ask forthrightly for fear of being found out and rejected.
- It means keeping your best feelings—feelings of love and affection—a secret, as though they were something dirty or shameful.
- It means never letting your frustration or anger show when your teachers and fellow students routinely make heterosexist remarks that exclude you and how you lead your life.
- It means never being able to talk about your life, your hopes, your dreams freely and as matter-of-factly as do all of the heterosexual students who you live with day in and day out.
- It means being afraid to go to an event sponsored by the lesbian/gay community because someone from school might see you and then your secret would be out.
- It means wanting to be out and proud on campus, but being fearful because you’re not yet out at home to your parents or family members.
- It means avoiding someone who is homophobic and threatening, maybe even not wanting to go back to your room in the dorm because this person lives on your floor.
- It means feeling alone and feeling different.
Information adapted from Abilock, T. (2001). USF Safe Zone Ally Manual, unpublished document.