Thanks to Megan MacGregor of Penn State Wilkes-Barre for writing this blog for Equal Opportunities for students! This Food for Thought is inspired by the recent events for Coming Out Week.
There are lots of us. To quote the title of one of storyteller Ivan Coyote’s books, There’s one in every crowd. You just can’t see it sometimes. We’re still assumed straight until proven otherwise, which can make for some awkward conversations when we’re talking with other people in line at the grocery store, talking to doctors, or participating in class.
Some of us use this assumption to fly under the radar until we find a safe place. Often that means college, when your away from your family for the first time, and among a much larger group of your peers. Many LGBTQ students have waited for this moment as their chance to be themselves. Indeed, they have been told by the popular culture that this is THE moment for them.
In a survey the Human Rights Campaign conducted of over 100,000 LGBTQ youth, ages 13-17 in 2012, they found that kids from the Middle Atlantic states reported the smallest percentage of being out, whether it was to family or friends, compared to the other 7 regions of the USA. That was 5 years ago. The kids who took that survey, who felt unsafe to come out, are now at or about to start college with us.
Our LGBTQ students are not like the rest of our student body. They come with a disadvantage based on nothing except who they fall in love with. Because of this difference, in our state, they can be evicted from their rented apartment, they can be refused a position they qualify for or fired at work, and they can be refused service at a restaurant, theater, or hotel.
They are more likely than their peers not to have the support of their parents. They may not be speaking to them. It took my dad two years to talk to me again after I came out. They may have been kicked out by their parents. Or they may have not told their parents. Half of the kids in the survey said they had no adult family member they could talk to when they were feeling low. There are a lot of times college makes a student feel low, and not having a family to confide in is definitely adds to the challenges.
Because of some arbitrary facet of themselves, no better than hair color, has such a profound effect on their lives, LGBTQ students are hyper aware of what others are saying around them. They are going to be listening and watching to find out whether you support them, or if it’s safer for them to lie to you about who they are.
They need your support. Despite the difficulty, the LGBTQ community has a long and proud history of creators, researchers, and entrepreneurs. They have been waiting a long time for a change to be themselves and to shine. They just need a little help and understanding from you to do so. We’re all human beings after all.