Gay College Life
As a young adult newly entering the adult world, it is easy to be confused by the terminology we use to describe changes in college for gay and lesbian students. We have come a long way in our terminology and there is no clear cut definition for the words “gay” or “lesbian.” Some would say that these terms are self-defined terms used by members of the gay community to separate themselves from heterosexuals. The reality is that these terms were created by colleges and universities to help them better understand the students they are admitting into their schools. College admissions is a very competitive process and the colleges and universities have to be very careful about giving admission criteria that will allow any student to attend.
College adjustments for gay and lesbian students do happen, but you won’t find them listed in the guidelines for college acceptance. Most of the time, these adjustments are put in place after the college has given its acceptance to the students. Once the college has all of the information about the new inclusion policy, the students are notified about the adjustments to college policy. The adjustments can be anything from an updated sexual orientation policy to modifications in school policies for helping gay and lesbian students feel comfortable about their sexuality.
Many of the recent changes in college policy for lesbians and gays came from a need to create guidelines that would keep anyone who was questioning their sexual orientation from being harassed by other students on campus. This was done in response to the tragic Pulse shooting in Orlando. The Pulse incident left two people dead and a lot of grief and confusion in the lives of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community. A group of students wanted to develop a set of guidelines and rules that could help ease some of the strain caused by this tragic event.
The first guideline was that if someone in your community is questioning their sexual orientation, you should not be personally affected by the way they are feeling. The second guideline is that no matter how much the student is hurting because of the conflict, they should not blame themselves for being a gay, lesbian, or bisexual. The third guideline is that if the student experiences a significant change in behavior, they should talk with a college advisor about it. They should not suffer in silence because of the tension that other students have about their sexual orientation.
As the need for Guidelines grew, there were concerns that the College would lose its sense of individuality and would become a cookie cutter type of institution. This does not have to be the case. The College can be whatever that makes you and other students feel comfortable. People need to understand that differences do not need to be a problem when it comes to sexual orientation.
Gay and lesbian students may not feel comfortable in a College that does not accept them completely. There are ways that you can be accepted and still pursue your goals. There are institutions out there that are willing to make accommodations for you. You do not need to be upset about someone making a negative comment to discourage you from going into the College that you want to attend. Take the time to seek out information about what is going on at the College and if you have any questions or concerns, talk to the College’s department of equity and equal opportunity.
Some lesbian students may experience an added level of stress because they are nervous about the reaction that other College students will have to their lifestyle choices. Know that this can be reduced by knowing your support network. There are support groups on campus for gay and lesbian students. You may want to join one of these groups so that you have a sounding board for your situation. Know that you are not the only gay student in your college or university. Many students are like you.
There will come days when you will feel as though you cannot breathe. Adjustments in college for gay and lesbian students do not have to take forever. If you are willing to face the struggles and learn from the counselors and administrators on your campus, you will find that you can thrive as a student and a person on this campus. The only thing that you have to keep in mind is that you should never give up.
Discrimination for gay and lesbian people is alive and well. You are more likely to find this sort of discrimination in a college campus than in the rest of the world. In fact, a recent survey by the Human Rights Campaign found that nearly one in four college students reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or discrimination due to their sexual orientation. Sadly, many college students do not report their harassment or discrimination out of fear of reprisal from administrators or fellow students. In this case, the discrimination is often worse than the harassment itself.
A significant amount of the confusion surrounding discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity has been caused by the efforts of organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Student’s Union (GLSU) to support students who are struggling with being gay or lesbian in college. However, they have also promoted a certain level of intolerance among other college students. This intolerance is most commonly expressed in comments made by some student supporters against homosexuality. These “in jokes” or anti-gay slogans that seem to be a part of everyday conversation have contributed greatly to the increased level of intolerance on college campuses.
There are those who say that being homosexual is an acceptable form of sexual expression, but others argue that it is something that is sinful. In reality, being gay or lesbian is a non-conformity with basic societal norms. Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, does not mean you are abnormal or undesirable. There are people who live in strait relationships and serve in the armed forces. There are also many straight people who have married men and children. Being gay is simply a variant of human sexuality – the ability to behave according to the gender of one’s choosing.
In addition to anti-gay and lesbian comments, discrimination can also come in the form of physical treatment. As the GLSU has pointed out, there are a number of cases where gay and lesbian students have been physically attacked due to their sexual orientation. The incidents include cases of gay students being taunted, harassed or pushed into a locker room. Gay and lesbian students are often targeted by locker room jokes and other taunts. This physical violence has no place in a college or university, and should not be tolerated. Those who witness such behavior need to report it to authorities, and the rest will likely follow suit.
Another form of discrimination can come from the administration. Many colleges and universities have official policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation, yet many administrators still fail to make clear their intentions. Discrimination can take many forms, even when it comes to restroom usage. College students should be able to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, not the one that matches their sexual preference. This kind of discrimination may not seem as offensive as the verbal insults aimed at gay and lesbian students, but it is still just as wrong.
Many schools have zero tolerance policies for discrimination, yet they often fail to enforce them. Students who witness discrimination for gay and lesbian in college have a right to be treated equally in the classroom, on campus and in the workplace. Schools that refuse to accommodate the needs of its gay and lesbian students do so at their own peril. There is no reason for a school to adopt policies that allow discrimination and harassment of this kind, especially in light of the tragic high statistics of young people being killed or driven to suicide because of acts of discrimination.
Gay and lesbian students deserve to be protected by anti-discrimination laws. But like so many other progressive policies, these do not work well in practice. Anti-discrimination in college has become just a farce, because too few schools actually have anti-discrimination policies that work. In order to prevent discrimination, college must make a policy strong enough to deter discrimination and harassment. It also must provide adequate accommodations for the discriminated-upon in the workplace, on campus and in the school itself. For example, it might be reasonable for a college to allow a gay student to attend physical classes, but not to attend spiritual classes or engage in sexual counseling.
But no school can pretend to have a zero tolerance policy on discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation. If a school allows discrimination, then it is liable to its students for damages caused by discrimination. A college, like a business, can be held responsible for monetary damages if it allows discrimination. If a student feels discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, he or she may bring a lawsuit against the school, and the school may be responsible for damages. If you or someone you know thinks that they are being discriminated against for being gay or lesbian, you should speak to an attorney who specializes in sexual orientation discrimination.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) college students experience unique challenges related to emotional and physical well-being. College administrators and faculty members have an obligation to meet these needs through effective education. Fortunately, many of these challenges are related, with a common theme: coping in an often hostile, anti-gay, heteronormative world.
One major factor affecting the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals is prejudice. People who suffer from prejudice may have difficulties adjusting to college life and may feel isolation. College campuses are traditionally considered a safe environment for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. However, that safety can be fleeting as individuals who are motivated to hate or be angry due to discrimination and hate speech experience difficulty adjusting to college life.
Another major factor impacting mental health and wellness in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people is internalized sexual orientation discrimination. Discrimination occurs when two or more people treat someone else differently because of their sexual orientation. The result of this behavior can be violent, verbal abuse, and abuse of a sexual nature. Harassment on campus can be particularly harmful, with a single instance of prejudice creating a sense of fear and instability among those who are already feeling unsafe and unwell. Those who experience verbal or physical harassment should seek help from a student support group, a school counselor, or a school administrator. Those who are the target of prejudice may find themselves unable to perform ordinary tasks, and may feel helpless and overwhelmed.
Drug use is another significant issue facing LGBT youth today. Frequently, young people who are struggling with sexual orientation and identity become desperate for a sense of belonging and acceptance from others. After being subjected to discrimination and abuse, some individuals begin to experiment with drugs in an effort to find a sense of identity and significance. Unfortunately, drug use can be counterproductive, causing the student to withdraw from school, lose friends, and cause a deterioration of academic performance in sports.
Mental health issues caused by prejudice and discrimination are higher rates than those associated with any other type of minority group. In addition, LGBT people of color are more likely to experience a higher rate of serious psychological disorders. These higher rates are linked to a number of factors, including lack of education, poverty, higher rates of violence and abuse, lesser access to quality healthcare, unemployment, lower educational levels, higher rates of substance abuse and addiction, racial discrimination, and lesser exposure to beneficial forms of therapy.
The disproportionate number of mental health issues experienced by LGBT students nationwide highlights the need for inclusive, supportive schools that provide support for everyone. Educators must take a proactive stance in educating their colleagues about identity and prejudice. In addition, educators must take steps to remove the stigmas associated with being gay. For example, restrooms, locker rooms, and other areas should be fully gender-neutral. If this step is not taken, there will be an increase in the negative impact of prejudice and bullying as well as the disproportionate number of LGBT teenagers and adults suffering from mental health concerns that are related to this common environment.
HIV/AIDS is also a growing concern for LGBT adolescents and adults. Many schools lack specific programs and curriculums addressing this STD, causing there to be a lag in providing comprehensive HIV/AIDS education and in offering people living with HIV the protection and resources they need. Currently, there is no federal law that requires schools to offer comprehensive HIV/AIDS competency curriculums. However, school districts are encouraged to consider adding these competency programs so that they can provide comprehensive psychological and behavioral health services to those at risk for contracting HIV.
Stigma can impact an individual’s sense of self-worth and confidence. Those living with HIV or AIDS are frequently subjected to discrimination and stereotyping, creating a negative mental health conditions environment. Because there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are many individuals who experience emotional distress due to the stigma surrounding their sexual orientation. Adding a STD evaluation and counseling to schools will create an environment where all students – regardless of sexual orientation – will feel comfortable and welcome.
As the experiences of those diagnosed with a mental condition like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are varied, there is no universal approach to dealing with sexual orientation stigma. School programs can add an educational component to the existing harassment, discrimination, and violence encountered by lesbian, gay, and bisexual (gay) students. The added education will allow students to learn how to deal with emotional health struggles that are similar to those experienced by HIV-positive individuals. Adding a STD assessment and counseling to school activities will assist in the identification and treatment of mental health issues that may accompany stigma-based stigma.
If you, a parent, or a loved one identifies with any of these mental health concerns, it is imperative that you seek professional guidance to ensure that you or your loved one receive the treatment necessary. Being accepted and supported into a same-sex relationship can be a struggle for LGBT individuals. However, being accepted and supported by your LGBT peers is often a key step on the path to recovery and mental health.