Going away to college is a rite of passage for many young adults. It is a time that shapes them to start to become independent from their parents. For college students that identify as LGBTQ+, going away to college gives them a chance to be “out of the closet” without having to worry about disapproval from family.
According to a study by the American College Health Association, out of a sample of more than 33,000 undergraduate college students in 2016, 10% identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, pansexual, or questioning.
Because of the pandemic, COVID-19, close to 100 colleges and universities have canceled or suspended in-classroom instruction. Many universities have closed dormitories, forcing students to return home to finish out their semesters from their parents’ house. For some LGBTQ+ college students who are physically, financially, or emotionally dependent on family, returning home could mean going back into the closet while others may not have a home to go to during this time of uncertainty because of their LGBTQ+ness.
Ken Ditlevson, director of Kent State University’s LGBTQ+ Center, said, “We have had students reach out by phone or through e-mail. There’s a fair amount of students going back to unsupportive homes. I have several students that identify in the trans community that their family either doesn’t believe them or doesn’t want to see their child identifies this way.”
Ditlevson also explained these families were intent on using the students’ deadname, the name they were born with, and misgendering the students.
“I had one student who was like ‘I don’t want to go home. I don’t know where else to go but I’m not going home’,” Ditlevson explained, “and thankfully another student in the space (LGBTQ+ Center) checked with their family to stay with them.”
“What we’re trying to do, really at this point,” Ditlevson described, “is trying to support them (Kent State LGBTQ+ students) emotionally. We do have an emergency fund that I am anticipating we’ll likely see a big uptick in usage.”
The emergency fund Ditlevson referred to is the LGBTQ+ Emergency Scholarship Fund, which is used to help Kent State LGBTQ+ students who are disowned for coming out and experience financial hardship.
Ways that the Kent State LGBTQ+ Center is helping support students emotionally, as Ditlevson clarified, are through video chatting through social media and weekly Mario Kart 8 Switch Online tournaments.
“We’re trying to connect with people through e-mail, through phone calls,” said Ditlevson. “We’re doing it in that way while we’re equipping our intern team to get equipped to help us even further reaching these students.”
Ditlevson detailed various ways friends, family, and allies can help LGBTQ+ college students during the uncertain times of isolation from the coronavirus. He suggested reaching out to the students as well as encouraging messages through social media.
Other resources for LGBTQ+ students during this time of isolation:
- Ken Schneck, editor of Ohio’s LGBT publication, Prizm, also listed some suggestions in article on Prizm’s website.
- LGBTQ activist, Brooklyn Owen has also started a GoFundMe to help LGBTQ+ students who have been displaced during the COVID-19.
It is important to let those students who are experiencing difficulty through this isolation that there are resources available to help them. Even something as simple as reaching out to these students through social media can make a difference. If you know of any other programs, initiatives, etc. helping LGBTQ+ college students, please let us know in the comments.