The first time I felt completely comfortable being myself was at a queer space on campus: It was a college conference. I attended this conference during my Junior year of college, and at this time, I was still unsure of who I was and the many identities I held.
Before attending this conference, I had never been around so many different queer people or had access to much education surrounding queerness. Most of the people at the event, including the campus organization I attended, were there to learn how to make their campuses a safe space for their LGBTQI+ students and community. This convention taught me an incredible amount, but the most important was the need for queer safe spaces on college campuses and how to navigate them.
Why Do We Need Queer Spaces on Campus?
According to the Association of American Universities, nearly 17% of undergraduate and graduate students identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, queer, or questioning in 2018. Furthermore, a new study has shown that Gen Zers are more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ than previous age groups, meaning the incoming college classes will likely include more queer students than ever before.
College is also the time in which students often feel the most comfortable coming out. College students leave their hometowns, families, and high school bullies; Being away from all this aids in someone expressing themselves and their sexuality more freely.
College creates a new form of freedom that serves as an environment for exploration and discovery.
Being exposed to a group of students with diverse backgrounds and sexualities can also be beneficial in understanding one’s own sexuality. I remember befriending and talking with someone who is bisexual during my own experience aiding in discovering my own sexuality. This time of exploration, expression, and exposure can be imperative for a student’s queer journey and why queer spaces are so important.
Although college can be a time where students may feel comfortable coming out, grappling with one’s sexual identity can be a complex process. I had a panic attack the first time I kissed a girl. Having a space or resource on campus that can help the coming out process can be critical for queer students, and many queer student spaces or organizations have coming out resources and support systems.
A safe space on campus helps queer students feel welcomed, supported and create a place that’s better able to connect and befriend other queer students– creating a community.
This is imperative for individuals working through their identity and the coming out process. Research has even shown that feeling part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) community positively impacts mental health, emotional well-being, and quality of life. Queer spaces that help promote a queer community on campus can be a crucial part of supporting queer students while at college.
Lastly, a vital part of having queer spaces on campus is to impact change. Queer college organizations will often petition, protest, or lobby for better queer inclusivity on campus. This can include pronouns in class settings, diversity and inclusion training requirements, non-gendered bathrooms, anti-homophobic policies, and gender reaffirming care at the student clinic. Queer organizations on campuses can be a critical part of creating change on campus to be more inclusive for current and future students.
Now that we’ve talked about the importance of queer spaces, let’s talk about navigating them!
What Do These Spaces Look Like?
Queer spaces on campus can look like a place where students have access to safe and confidential people to talk to about feelings, concerns, and experiences. These people could be faculty, advisors, or organization leaders.
Most queer campus organizations will have professionally trained staff to support students throughout their queer journey. These staff members could be higher educators, social workers, or queer educators. Friends, allies, and a community of students can help support students, but a trained LGBTQ professional as a resource can be crucial for many students.
Figure Out What Kind of Space You’re Looking For
The first step in navigating queer spaces on campus is figuring out what kind of space you’re looking for! The amazing part of college is, there’s typically a group of people just like you who are a part of an organization.
There are queer student organizations for students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to help create a space for marginalized students in a difficult, exclusionary field.
For students who enjoy the idea of greek life but do not like the homophobia within greek life, consider joining a queer student organization that parallels traditional greek life while emphasizing inclusion.
If you enjoy bettering the community, try finding queer student organizations that are volunteer and community service-based. There are, of course, general queer student organizations that act as a “catch-all” space for queer students. If you are passionate about advocacy, try a queer organization that works on campus policy change and inclusion. Maybe you even want to join a queer acapella group!
Figuring out what kind of queer organization you want to be a part of and what feels best for you will help navigate queer spaces on campus.
Bring a Friend if You’re Nervous
If you want to attend a queer organization meeting on campus but are nervous about attending alone, you can always bring a friend! Friends can help ease the pressure of walking into the unknown. It can be scary not knowing anyone in a room.
If you have a friend that is queer or is an ally, ask them to support you and join!
Unless explicitly said otherwise, queer spaces accept allies as long as the individuals accept and support them. Be aware not to bring anyone into a safe space that may cause harm. Overall, going with a supportive friend can be a great way to help discover and navigate queer organizations and spaces!
You Do Not Have to Know Who You Are to Be in the Space
I think there is this idea that everyone in queer spaces knows exactly who they are and the identities they hold from the outside. It can feel overwhelming entering queer spaces without having all the answers, and not knowing how I identified prevented me from accessing queer spaces for a long time. But, it is okay not to know the answers and still belong in queer spaces. It is one of the beauties of queer spaces— discovery and support!
Questions to Ask Yourself
Before and after entering queer spaces, it can be helpful to reflect and ask yourself some questions! Entering a space with set intentions can be beneficial in navigating the space; Similarly, reflecting on your experience in the space can be equally valuable. The most important part of navigating queer spaces is how it makes you feel!
A few questions you can ask yourself are:
- Do you feel supported in the space?
- Do you feel represented in the space?
- Did you leave the space feeling overall positive or negative?
- Do you feel comfortable in this space?
- Is this a space you will go back to for support, community, and advice?
Overall, queer organizations on campus can be very critical spaces for queer students. College is a time full of change- one of which can be sexuality. A queer space on campus is vital for giving students support during the many transitions of college, helping them build community, giving them resources, and just being a space where they can be themselves.