College can be a safe haven for LGBTQ+ students

College+can+be+a+safe+haven+for+LGBTQ%2B+students

Illustration by Kate Nuelle

Coming out is like being reborn for a lot of LGBTQ people. And like being born the first time, none of us have any control over what life we are thrust into, what circumstances, what opportunities.

Something happens when LGBTQ people reach the peak of the mountain we’ve been climbing all our lives. Some of us are able to remain on the peak, supported by the warm acceptance of family when they find out we want to be called a different name or that we may someday marry a person different than expected. Some of us tumble down the slope when we feel the sting of rejection too potent for us to keep our balance. Some of us do a strange dance between the two, often finding chosen family and confidence that help us climb back up. College plays a huge role in that.

Leaving unaccepting home environments to go to college is a life-altering relief. For everyone, a college campus is somewhere where you can remake yourself or be authentic. You choose who gets to play a role in your life and how you present who you are. For queer students, this opportunity isn’t taken lightly.

Finally, there are chances to introduce ourselves with the correct pronouns without our parents standing over our shoulders ready to take them away. We can date who we want, even if the dating pool is tiny. Student organizations like PRIDE and gender accommodations like gender-inclusive housing allow us to find community with other LGBTQ students. That is, until everyone is sent back home.

Life-threatening virus aside, going back home isn’t an easy feat for a lot of LGBTQ students who aren’t accepted or affirmed by their families. College is a safe haven and often, the friends we have made on campus become a new family that won’t judge us for existing as we are. Bringing back solely the academic and most stressful parts of college into an otherwise stressful and unhealthy environment at home can be detrimental to mental health.

If you are in this situation, hang in there.

If you’re sitting at the kitchen table, unable to hear your professor over the roar of your deadname, hang in there. Remember what it felt like to walk on Trinity’s campus and declare yourself for who you are.

If you’re resorting to clothes pushed all the way in the back of your closet just so you don’t get scolded for looking too gay or too butch or too whatever, hang in there. Other people only have a bearing on your outer shell. They can’t touch who you are down deep if you don’t let them.

If at any point you feel hopeless, pick up a phone and call a friend who knows who you are. Call the other gay cousin in the family who can relate. Take a walk and exercise your right to roam freely as your true self, even if it’s just down the block and back.

And if you’re not in this situation but know somebody who is, check in on them. Ask how you can be an affirming presence in their life at this moment. Remind them of the courage it takes to not surrender their authenticity.

Someday soon, we’ll be back on campus. Or, we’ll be making a home somewhere else — in a job, a friend, a new apartment. Either way, after all of this pandemic madness, we can all get another shot at rebirth. Another chance to find our way back up to the peak of the mountain.