By Andrea “Dre” Domingue and Gwendolyn Alden Dean
Many LGBT students of color are flourishing across the United States in local communities and college campuses. Nevertheless, as LGBT students of color, we often encounter campuses that do not support us holistically as complex individuals with multiple identity groups.
We are often pressured to choose between our race or ethnicity and sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. We must do for either our entire undergraduate career, through or for every event, program, group, political action and the list goes on. Typically, LGBT students of color experience the racism of both the mainstream white community and racism of white members of the LGBT community. We also experience the heterosexism of the mainstream straight community and the LGBT prejudice of straight members of communities of color.
LGBT students of color have even less visibility than their white counterparts. As a result, we are often rendered invisible within the very communities we look to for support and recognition. Such can be the truth for campus life for many LGBT students of color. Campuses must recognize these needs outright in creating a place for everyone. Here are important suggestions to help us find a supportive college or university, for coping cope with a less than ideal environment and for strategies to improve the campus climate for the future.
Choosing a College or University That Supports LGBT Students of Color
IDENTIFY AVAILABLE RESOURCES Much of this can be found on the campus website or discovered on your campus visit. Look for and ask about everything: student group(s) for LGBT people of color; multicultural center(s); ethnic studies programs; multicultural living-learning program(s); organization(s) for alumni/ae of color; diversity advisers in various departments; training programs or organizations for white allies; and a campuswide diversity council, task force or presidential advisory group.
FIND A GROUP FOR LGBT STUDENTS OF COLOR Since names vary widely among LGBT of color student groups and often don’t explain the groups purpose, finding an organization may be challenging. Examples of LGBT student of color groups are Queer Students of Color Alliance (Q-SOCA), Young Queers United for Empowerment ( Y Que), LLEGO, Mosaic, Colors of Pride and Shades. Many campuses in this guidebook are indicated as having groups specifically for LGBT students of color. In addition, communities of color may use terms other than lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender to describe themselves. For example, Same Gender Loving (SGL) is a term originating in the African American community that describes individuals who are attracted to individuals of the same gender. Some people who prefer this term may feel that terms such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender are Eurocentric terms that do not historically represent communities of color. Two Spirit is an American Indian/First Nation term for people who blend traditionally polar gender identities. It was used historically to describe individuals who crossed gender boundaries and were accepted by American Indian/First Nation cultures. It is used today by some transgender and sometimes gay, lesbian and bisexual American Indians to describe themselves. If a school doesn’t have a group for LGBT students of color, check to see if another local institution has an LGBT student of color group. Some campuses allow other nonaffiliated students and community members to attend group meetings or events. Once you find a group in your community, ask if you can participate.
EVALUATE THE COLLEGE STATEMENT ON DIVERSITY Look at how the campus envisions “diversity” and what aspects of diversity are included in the statement. Typically, this information is located on the campus admissions Website along with a list of resources available that relate to diversity.
ASK QUESTIONS When you’ve determined which resources are available at a given campus, e-mail or telephone to ask some of the following questions: What kind of resources and programs are there for LGBT students of color; for educating white students about antiracism; and for educating straight students of color about antiheterosexism? What is your understanding of the needs of LGBT students of color and the campus climate for LGBT students of color? How does the LGBT center/adviser/group collaborate with the multicultural center(s)/adviser(s)/group(s) and vice versa? Are there local resources for LGBT people of color? Are there LGBT students of color I could contact to discuss these issues?
TALK TO CURRENT LGBT STUDENTS OF COLOR Some LGBT students of color feel strongly that if a campus has a healthy LGBT person of color community, then a prospective student should be able to get in contact with an LGBT student of color. If you have an opportunity to discuss campus climate with one or more current LGBT students of color, this will be your best source of information about what you can expect at that particular campus. Crucial questions include: What have your personal experiences been as an LGBT person of color? Do you think your experience is representative of others? How do you meet LGBT students of color? If an LGBT student of color group exists, ask about the group’s membership, activities, goals and mission. If an LGBT of color group doesn’t exist, ask why not and if there has been any effort to form one.