November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

LGBTQ and College Bound | College Ready

1506-CollegeReady-LGBT-FlagFew high school seniors sound as sure-footed as Casey Hoke. He has already picked a college, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona). He knows what he wants to pursue—landscape architecture—and believes his school will support his future career and his life.

A transgender male, Hoke credits a high school English teacher with giving him the confidence to look beyond a college’s course offerings to make the right choice.

“She challenged me to ask those questions of a college so I would have a good community to go to,” says the Louisville, KY-based Hoke, 18, a student ambassador with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN; glsen.org).

The year before college is a transformative time for any student. For LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) youth, there are particular concerns: Are there non-gender specific dorms? Should I disclose in my essay that I identify as LGBTQ? Will I feel safe?

Safety is a big issue for the four to six percent of middle and high school students who’ve identified as LGBTQ, according to some of GLSEN’s research. (There isn’t specific population data on LGBTQ youth, GLSEN notes.) More than 74 percent are verbally harassed or threatened because of their sexual orientation, according to a 2013 survey, and 16.5 are physically assaulted for the same reason.

GLSEN and the Charlotte, NC-based Campus Pride (campuspride.org), an organization serving LGBTQ college students, cohosted an online campus fair in March (http://ow.ly/N6mNz). Dozens of schools held virtual meet-and-greets for students with questions.

“If you’re going to be paying for school, why wouldn’t you want one that’s LGBT-friendly?” says Shane Windmeyer, Campus Pride executive director and author of The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students (Alyson Publications, 2006). “A young person should expect a certain level of LGBTQ inclusion when [on] campus”—and be able to “learn without fear of who I am.”

Campus Pride has held in-person college fairs for the last seven years and publishes the Campus Pride Index (campusprideindex.org), rating colleges on LGBTQ housing, recruitment, and other factors. Windmeyer says that colleges are seeking to be more inclusive, and high schoolers are finding the courage to ask questions.

“When I was in school I felt I didn’t get any help for college,” says Elizabeth Kahn, library media specialist at the Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy in Avondale, LA. “This is an area where [librarians] can help.” Kahn steers LGBTQ seniors to the local PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter for scholarship information (http://ow.ly/N6n2r). She also keeps a LiveBinder of scholarships, has LGBTQ-friendly books, and acts as an informal college essay editor.

Liam Arne, 19, recalls a school librarian who included queer-friendly titles during Banned Books Weeks. That helped him feel comfortable asking questions about colleges’ social climates and political atmospheres. Now a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, Arne is a member of the campus Lambda Alliance and VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood.

Kris Manus, 18, from Georgia, took action after abuse. She was outed her high school freshman year by an ex-girlfriend—and beaten in a locker room. Manus launched her school’s first Day of Silence, sponsored by GLSEN, in 2014. This year, more than half the school participated.

Manus has turned to GLSEN and Campus Pride for college information, but mostly, she is “doing everything on my own,” she says. She will complete prerequisites locally at Georgia Gwinnett College and study piano, aiming to transfer to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Staying in her community wasn’t Manus’s first choice, but she says it’s her best one for now, as she is paying for college. “Georgia is not accepting of the LGBT community…[but] if I didn’t go to college, I wouldn’t make a life for myself.”

Hoke also knows his life ahead at Cal Poly Pomona will not be without bumps—including homesickness. But he feels he’s making the right choice. “It all fit together for me,” he says. “I am set.”

This article was published in School Library Journal's June 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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