LGBTQ+ People Experience Different Difficulties Coming to College

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Transitioning from high school to college creates confusion and uncertainty for many students. Navigating a shared space with a roommate is one of the most common changes that college freshmen experience.

Some college freshmen experience different difficulties as they try to express themselves in a new environment. Some LGBTQ students have to decide if they will “come out” to their roommate, and how they will address that process.

“The thing about coming out is that you have to come out to people every day,” Cody Huebner said. “New people you meet, it just has to come up some way.”

Huebner, a sophomore at Ohio University, felt that college presented a good time to come out because there are so many new and unique people all around campus.

“I kind of had the thought like… It’s college, there’s so many people,” he said. “I don’t think it’s gonna matter too much.”

According to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of people who identify as LGBT say society has become more accepting of their identity. However, coming out for many queer individuals can be a very scary task.

Cody came out to his friends and family during high school and was widely accepted.

“I never really faced much opposition with coming out,” Cody said. “Like at all, from anyone I care about. Which is I’m super lucky, because it is pretty uncommon and unheard of for that in retrospect.”

After some consideration, Cody decided to have a random roommate in his first year at Ohio University. He told his future roommate that he was gay to make sure there would be no initial issues.

I did tell [my roommate] I was gay just to clear the air, because I didn’t want any issues moving in and stuff,” he said. “And he said he was fine with it, which was a pretty big relief for me.”

At the beginning of their first semester living together, the two got along well. They grew apart as the semester progressed, defining their own sets of friends. Then, Cody learned, his roommate’s opinion on him had changed.

“Yeah so my boyfriend at the time would stay over and stuff, and I guess what he was saying to my hall council was that he refused to sit on my futon because he said we would do unspeakable things on it,” Cody said. “And that’s like all he would say. And my hall council would look at him and just be like, ‘You’re stupid… why does it matter? Blah blah blah.’”

And it only escalated from there.

“Like out of nowhere, too, like the whole year he didn’t really have any expression or decoration on his side of the room which was kind of weird to me,” he said. “And then he just came out of nowhere with this bikini poster of this woman like barely wearing any clothes. And that’s like all it was, and he just hung it up and didn’t say anything. I think that was his way of trying to like, fire back at me. I could be wrong, I could be misinterpreting the situation but that’s kind of the way I took it and that was around the time that our tension kept going up.”

Cody sought out people to talk to, like the resident assistants in his building and staff at the LGBT Center on campus. Luckily, he finished out his first academic year without any big clashes. He said that after living with a roommate, he learned that communication may have been the best option to tackle the tension in the first place.

Other queer students, like Joseph Metcalf, choose to live in different configurations so as to avoid any altercations altogether.

“I chose not to have a roommate first semester, one, because I felt like it would be too much trying to share a space with someone, and second, I didn’t know if I wanted to spend that much time with someone who was still trying to figure out themself, which is why I chose to not have a gay roommate,” he said.

However, while Joseph didn’t have any roommate issues, he did feel some tension with people in his hall.

“I put a safe zone sticker on my door because I was actually certified as a safe zone counselor, and I had people come and take it down multiple times,” Joseph explained.

Joseph decided to seek out a shared living space in his second semester.

“Second semester I switched dorms and lived with my friend from high school, and he of course knew I was gay and he was completely cool with it,” he said. “He had already made plenty of gay friends here.”

Joseph and his roommate talked about etiquette for having “private time” with partners, and with open communication, Joseph had no problems with his roommate.

While living with a non-queer roommate can be particularly difficult for some in the LGBTQ community, for others, it can be as uneventful as any other shared living experience. If students do find a problem with their living situation, it can be best to communicate with your roommate to ease tensions. If this does not work, Ohio University does provide several alternative options.

Though the dorm Cody lives and works in isn’t a designated an “LGBT” dorm, Ohio University’s Smith House does have an entire floor focused on an LGBT Living Learning Experience. The floor has no gendered bathrooms, and is separated into two halves. The RA of the floor, B Irwin, said that one side is designated as “LGBT Housing” and is community focused for those in the queer community. The other half, B explained, is simply called “Gender Neutral Housing,” where any student is welcome to live in a gender neutral setting. Students must apply and be accepted to live on the floor.

The College Equality Index reports that 38 colleges currently offer gender-neutral housing options for LGBT students, including Whitman College, The University of Chicago and Stanford University.

Joseph, who also works in the LGBT center, finds that many queer students struggle with their roommates.

“We have that often in the center,” he said. “We have people come in and be like, ‘My roommate is having trouble being accepting certain things I’m doing.’ And it especially happens with like trans roommates. So at the center we have an RA on staff with us; the RA of gender neutral housing actually works for the center.”

Joseph suggested that first students should try to communicate with their roommates, and then if this does not work, students can arrange to have a conversation with their RA and their roommate together. The LGBT center can also send someone on staff to help mediate the RA and roommate conversation. However, if communication does not work, then students have the option to switch roommates to another dorm, such as the LGBT Living Learning Center in Smith Hall.

While adjusting to college can be difficult for any student, it can be particularly hard for members of the LGBTQ community. With this in mind, Ohio University and its LGBT Center continue to work hard to provide the most inclusive and queer friendly campus for all students. Reporting for OUtlet news in coordination with WOUB, this has been Michael Kromer and Juli Holbert.