The University years are years of extreme change. Many activities during the undergraduate years encourage students to develop self esteem and a distinct identity. For the gay, lesbian and bisexual student, answering the question “Who am I ?” can be very difficult. Because homosexuality and bisexuality are not widely accepted or even seen as healthy or acceptable by many people, gay, lesbian and bisexual students begin the self esteem battle a few steps back.
They may question their self worth and wonder where they fit into society and the university community. During college years students also begin to make decisions about what role religion will play in their lives. Other issues that will challenge gay, lesbian and bisexual students will be coming to terms with their career goals and health related issues such as coping with AIDS and the fear that goes with it.
In addition there may be issues concerning:
- Grieving the loss of membership in the dominant culture and entry into a permanently stigmatized group.
- The experience of being a minority, especially an invisible minority and it’s impact on one’s life.
- Lack of family support or strong role models to help them deal with their found status and identity.
- Potential lack of peer support and isolation.
Persons who are bisexual may also experience many of the above concerns. However, there are some issues unique to the bisexual experience. The stigma attached to bisexuality in many ways is greater than that attached to homosexuality. Many are open about their identity but many also hide it from both the heterosexual and homosexual world, believing that neither will accept them. Although many bisexuals tend to align themselves with gay and lesbian communities, an individual’s self identification as bisexual is frequently met with skepticism in the homosexual community and is seen as an attempt to avoid the stigma of homosexuality. There is an added pressure on bisexuals to identify as homosexual and behave in an exclusively homosexual manner.
If you are struggling with questions of sexual identity, sexual identity or sexual development, contact the Office of Counseling Services for support. The counseling office at High Point University offers affirmative counseling for GLBT students exploring their sexuality in a non-threatening environment.
Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Students of Color
When a student is both a student of color and a gay, lesbian or bisexual person, that person may feel that only one part of his or her identity can be important. For many it is difficult to strike a balance that allows them to be empowered and liberated in both their identities. Multiple oppressions affect their lives because:
- They feel they do not know who they are.
- They do not know which part of themselves is more important,
- They do not know how to deal with one part of themselves oppressing another part of themselves.
- They do not have any one to talk to about the split they feel in their person.
- They feel misunderstood by each group if they consider both parts equally important
The experience of each racial/ethnic group is different depending on cultural values and beliefs about homosexuality and bisexuality and each person should be examined individually for the effects on his or her life of having a multiple identity.
Suggestions for Working with Gay, Lesbian, and Bi-sexual Students
- Don’t be surprised when someone comes out to you.
- Respect confidentiality. It is imperative that you can be trusted.
- Be informed. Most of us are products of a homophobic society. It is important that you are aware of the needs of gay, lesbian and bisexual students.
- Examine your own biases. If you are uncomfortable with dealing with the issue, and know that you are unable to be open and accepting, you need to refer the student to someone else.
- Know when and where to seek help. Know all available resources.
- Maintain a balanced perspective. Sexual thoughts and feelings are only a small (but important) part of a person’s self.
- Understand the meaning of “sexual orientation.” Each person’s sexual orientation is natural to that person.
- Deal with feelings first. You can be helpful by just listening and allowing a lesbian, gay or bisexual student the opportunity to vent feelings.
- Help, but don’t force. Lesbians, gays and bisexuals need to move at the pace they feel most comfortable with.
- Be supportive. Share with them that this is an issue that others must deal with, too.
- Don’t try to guess who’s gay.
- Challenge bigoted remarks and jokes. This shows support. – PFLAG (Parents and friends of Lesbians and Gays)
Things You Should Know as an Ally
1. Awareness: Explore how you are different from and similar to gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Gain this awareness through talking with gay, lesbian and bisexual people, attending workshops and self-examination.
2. Knowledge/Education: Begin to understand policies, laws and practices and how they affect gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Educate yourself on the many communities and cultures of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
3. Skills: This is an area which is difficult for many people. You must learn to take your awareness and knowledge and communicate it to others. You can acquire these skills by attending workshops, role-playing with friends or peers, and developing support connections.
4. Action: This is the most important and frightening step. Despite the fear, action is the only way to effect change in the society as a whole.
Five Other Points to Keep in Mind
1. Have a good understanding of sexual orientation and be comfortable with your own.
2. Be aware of the coming-out process and realize that it is not a one-time event. The coming-out process is unique to gay, lesbian and bisexual people and brings challenges that are not often understood.
3. Understand that gay, lesbian and bisexual people receive the same message about homosexuality and bisexuality as everyone else. Thus gay, lesbian and bisexual people suffer from internalized homophobia and heterosexism. It is important to recognize the risks of coming out and to challenge the internal oppression.
4. Remember that gay, lesbian and bisexual people are a diverse group. Each community within the larger gay, lesbian and bisexual community has unique needs and goals.
5. Know at least basic information about AIDS/HIV in order to address myths and misinformation and to be supportive of those affected by this disease whether in themselves or in partners and friends. While AIDS/HIV is a health issue for all, those who live with the most fear and have lost the most members of their community are gay, lesbian and bisexual persons.
Visit our Helpful Resources page for more information on GLBT and sexuality issues.