Campus closures pose added risks for LGBTQ+ students

Many LGBTQ+ college students who returned home amid COVID-19 campus closures are missing the safety and support of their college communities and resource centers. Those contending with unsupportive families and hostile home environments are especially vulnerable to abandoning their studies, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Students face compound complexities at home

Nearly one-fifth of undergraduate students identify as not-heterosexual. Most of those students report feeling more comfortable and safe at college than they did in high school. Many come out to their college communities before they come out to their families.

In quarantine, students are having to make tough choices about when, how, and with whom to share their identities. “Either I’d have to be dealing with being misgendered for an indefinite amount of time, or all of a sudden come out to my family,” said Stanford University senior A.R., who identifies as nonbinary and transgender but had not yet shared that with their family. 

Some students who feel they cannot fully be themselves at home, or face harassment, are especially vulnerable. That population is more likely to face financial hardship and health problems, especially if unaccepting families withdraw emotional, housing, or financial support. They also face more mental health stressors, and are more likely than the overall student body to have depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

The Trevor Project, a national nonprofit focused on preventing suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, reports that the number of young people seeking its crisis services has more than doubled since the pandemic began. “There are just so many young people who are impacted and scared and frightened in an unsafe or challenging situation, and many of them are reaching out for help and to talk about what they’re going through,” Amit Paley, the organization’s CEO and executive director, told NPR.

LGBTQ+ advocates are calling on colleges to invest in remote LGBTQ+ programming and increasing tele-counseling services. “There’s been a mental-health crisis on our campuses for such a long time,” said Michael Floyd, an instructor of women, gender, and sexuality studies and queer studies at Oregon State University. “This is pushing it further to the brink.”

Remote learning tools may create unexpected stress

Some aspects of digital learning can pose additional challenges for LGBTQ+ students. For students who have not fully expressed their sexual orientation and/or gender identities to their families, taking remote gender studies classes could increase the likelihood of unintentionally outing them.

“We have students who take our courses because they’re trying to find the language for their own gender and sexual identities,” said Qwo-Li Driskill, an associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies and queer studies at Oregon State University. Students could be reluctant to continue for fear of having their discussions overheard or textbooks spotted.

Additionally, many remote systems do not offer the option to select one’s preferred name or pronouns, potentially misgendering students in discussion forums and creating additional distress and dysphoria.

Colleges find virtual opportunities to show support

Although online communities cannot replace the feeling of in-person gatherings, colleges are still attempting to help students remain connected and engaged virtually.

Instead of monthly in-person dinners, the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is holding videoconference check-ins for LGBTQ+ students of color. Stanford’s Queer Student Resources center hosts daily virtual office hours, along with virtual trivia nights, mixers, and yoga classes. The school also provides Zoom therapy sessions to California students, as well as options for out-of-state students.

Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center this week celebrated the 12th annual Lavender Graduation, an event that typically brings together the LGBTQ and allied communities across the Main, Law, Medical, and School of Continuing Studies campuses. This year’s online celebration featured video messages from Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (C’86), University President John J. DeGioia, and a number of administrators, peers, alumni, faculty, and staff.

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