THINKING ABOUT COMING out in college? Did you come out in high school and are wondering what being openly LGBT in college is like? Many students arrive to campus already out. However, being in a new community, there is a first time coming out process to roomates, classmates, faculty, and friends. Other students specifically wait until they leave for college to come out of the closet or even begin to question their sexual orientation. The following are some things to think about as you are choosing whether or not to come out at your college or university.
Coming Out as a Process
Coming out is a personal journey. For most of us, it is something that happens over and over again, as you meet new people or move o new places. It is also a process that happens gradually. First, you might come out to yourself, ell a friend or family member, and over time, you become more and more comfortable telling others. For some, this process may take a semester or even years. Questioning your sexuality and coming out need to be done on your terms and happen when you are ready.
Coming Out in College
Universities and colleges are vibrant and exciting places to come out. There are often many resources available, and people to support you. The vast majority of schools have LGBT student organizations, coming out resources, and safe and confidential people for you to talk with about your feeling and experiences. Some campuses may not have LGBT-specific support services, especially religious institutions that may have objections to “homosexuality.” When choosing a school to attend, you might want to keep this in mind and search for a campus with LGBT resources-like the ones listed in this guidebook.
Things to Look For When Coming Out:
- Look for a safe person with whom you can talk. This can be a resident assistant, staff, faculty member, or friend. Some campuses have LGBT peer educators or mentor ship programs with students who can speak one-on-one with you about coming out issues and resources.
- If your school has an Ally or Safe Space/Zone program, an easy way to identify who participates is by he official sign on their door or button they may be wearing. Also, some staff and faculty may display small signs or symbols, such as rainbow flags or gay and lesbian books, in their office to convey that they are supportive people with whom you can talk.
- A great place to go, if you are really struggling with coming out or having concerns with relationships or family members, is the counseling center your campus. Many also run coming-out and discussion groups for the LGBT community. These groups are an excellent place o explore many of the questions you may have. Plus, you can meet other students who are also in the process of coming.
- Check out the LGBT student organizations and/or LGB center on your college campus. They are often able to offer support, and this can also be a great way to become involved on campus. Some schools and their surrounding communities have LGBT groups beyond the primary undergraduate or graduate organizations – LGBT religious groups (such as LGBT Jews), LGBT racial and ethnic organizations (such as Queer Chicanas, or QPOC – Queer People of Color), transgender and bi groups, or LGBT groups by academic profession (such as OutLaw). If your campus does not have the type of group you are looking for, there are often wonderful online community groups and chat rooms as well.
- Look online for a variety of resources about coming out and for ways to address your specific campus. Some schools sponsor LGBT students on their respective campuses. Another worthwhile source for coming out support online is the Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Project (www.hrc.org/comingout) and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (www.pflag.org).
- Don’t underestimate books. Most LGBT centers have a wide selection of books and magazines. Your school library and local book store will also have an LGBT section with books about coming out and a variety of topics about sexual identity. There is also a while host of LGBT magazines that cover social and political topics, which you might find interesting and helpful.
Choosing a Campus Where You Can Come Out
There are resources on mos campuses for LGBT students, certainly he ones listed in this guidebook. Before you choose a campus, check out its Website to get a taste of LGBT life and whether you might feel comfortable coming out at that school. When visiting the campus, if comfortable, ask about people’s experiences with LGBT students to get a better sense of what your new home may feel like. If you are not comfortable asking people, then research online and look for indicators. Type in words, such as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer” in the campus search engine and see what comes up. Find out the name of the primary LGBT student organization and check out their Website to see what the group is all about and if they have any coming out support groups/resources. Every school uses different acronyms and words to describe the LGBT community, so try more than just “gay and lesbian” when doing a search.
Remember on your campus visit to look for visible signals that may show support for coming out. Are there any Safe Space/Zone of Ally stickers up on office doors? Are there LGBT support groups offered in the counseling center or LGBT center? What, if any, posters are around campus adcertising LGBT events? Are LGBT options included in the campus visit or outlined in future orientation/welcome week activities? Again, the easiest thing to do is ask around, but looking for visual cues can be anoher useful way to fine out abou LGBT support on campus. If your potential campus has an LGBT center, give the staff a call to set up a visit, or better yet, just drop by. They can tell you what the campus climate is like, share coming out resources and/or inroduce you to other LGBT students.
Coming out for some is easy and for others it is often challenging, with obstacles to overcome. There is no one way to come out, and there certainly is no right way or wrong way. Everybody’s process is different, so take your time and do what is most comfortable for you. Most important, find at least one individual on campus who can support you. Someone from the Ally or Safe/Zone program, a counselor, a friend… and, even more important, remember you are not alone. Enjoy this exciting new time in your life and make the most of your college experience as an “out” student.