August 21, 2013

Starting College And Coming Out: Challenges And Opportunities

Guest Blogger Jaclyn Lansbery suggests supportive services to make coming out at college a little easier.

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GLBT welcome at Indiana University

GLBT welcome at Indiana University

For students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, college can be a positive growing experience. Since college can provide a different environment than that of high school, college students should know the resources available to them to ensure a smooth adjustment to campus life and possible changes in their family life.

Mary L. Gray, associate professor at the Department of Communication and Culture in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington, wrote about young people’s experiences growing up LGBT in rural areas in the United States. Her book “Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America,” speaks to LGBT students who come from backgrounds where being straight is the accepted sexual orientation.

“The biggest challenge that some LGBT students face is when they find themselves outgrowing their families and hometowns once they start to embrace their LGBT identity,” Gray said.

“Students, who may not have come out to family or friends back home, might be dating for the first time but won’t necessarily have the familiar support systems back home. Families might even blame college for encouraging their kids to come or embrace these identities.  LGBT students, unlike their straight peers, may have to defend the value of college to their families and may not be able to talk about some of the biggest things going on in their lives, such as dating other LGBT-identifying people or learning about LGBT culture,” Gray said. “Feeling unable to share what you’re learning and experiencing at college can be a very isolating experience.”

LGBT students who are financially dependent on their parents should also do their homework to make sure they have their parents’ or guardians’ support before coming out to them.

“They should talk with close friends, or other family members or family friends of their parents, to gauge how their parents will react if they’re unsure about the coming-out process,” she said.

The Family Acceptance Project — a research initiative that works to decrease major health issues for LGBT youth in the context of their families — provides several resources for LGBT students and their families on its website.  Gray also recommends that LGBT students use campus services targeted to the LGBT population so that they have a good sense of where to turn if they do need financial and emotional support after coming out to their parents.

Kinsey Confidential has some good pointers on coming out to parents.

Resources for LGBT Students

  • Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG): The nonprofit organization started with the simple act of Jeanne Manford supporting her gay son, Morty, by marching with him in New York’s Christopher Street Liberation Day March in 1972. The first formal meeting, serving as a support group, took place on March 26, 1973 in Greenwich Village. Now, the organization has more than 350 chapters located in urban centers, small cities and rural areas in all 50 states.
  • Sigma Phi Beta Fraternity: Founded on the premise of providing a Greek community that promotes equality and respect among Queer and Allied Men, Sigma Phi Beta has chapters at Arizona State University and Indiana University, Bloomington, as well as an interest group at Ohio State University and a colony at Middle Tennessee State University.
  •  Campus Pride is most popular for its Campus Pride Index, which assigns scores to colleges based on their LGBT-friendly policies, programs and practices. The nonprofit and online resource also offers webinars each semester on several topics, a Summer Leadership Camp and more.
  • The Trevor Project is a leading anti-bullying and suicide prevention resource. Targeted toward young LGBT people, college students can call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386 if they’re feeling suicidal or are in an immediate crisis. For non-time sensitive questions, they can also refer to Ask Trevor online and browse published letters of similar topics.

Still wondering?  Maybe it will help to read What Does it Mean to Come Out?

Guest Blogger Jaclyn Lansbery is a recent graduate of the IU School of Journalism, and currently works at IU Communications where she helps cover health, fitness and sexuality.