Here’s How I Support My LGBTQ Friends In My College (And So Can You)

CREAEditor's Note: With #QueerWithoutFear, Youth Ki Awaaz and CREA have joined hands to advocate for safer and more inclusive campuses for LGBTQ+ students and break the silence around the discrimination faced by students who identify as queer. If your college or school has an LGBTQ+ support group, a campus queer collective, or an initiative that’s pushing for a safer campus, share your story!

One of the best things about going to college, other than the degree given at the end, is the journey of self-discovery and exploration one undertakes during the time. Unlike things we learn in school, college education introduces us to a whole new world – a sea of new knowledge, ideologies, and concepts.

Exploration of sex, sexuality and gender are some such unadulterated journeys that we embark upon in these institutions. Being a female, the time I spent at the university was especially beneficial to me, helping me express thoughts and questions that had been forming inside of me. This not only meant understanding the reality of being a woman in a patriarchal society, but also my place in it, on a personal level. I learned to see myself and my gender in a different light, beyond the usual prism of black and white.

Halima Bello Husseini

While it was important to find myself during those years of exploration and experimentation, it also became imperative for me to understand sex, sexuality, and gender from the other side. And no, I don’t mean from a male point of view. Don’t mistake me. I don’t mean to say that understanding the world from the male point of view isn’t important in education. But the truth is that most of all our formal (sometimes even the informal) education is derived from the male point of view. I needed something new. I needed to also understand the queer view of the world.

As a sympathiser and advocate of the female struggle for autonomy, finding out about queer struggle made me realise, for the first time, that we (women) aren’t the only ones to have gotten the short-end of the stick. The LGBTQ community too, has been dealt a raw deal. For thousands of years, this community was erased from the history books entirely. They have been denied basic rights acknowledgement and existence. This was and still is the hardest thing for me to digest.

Despite many still stubbornly holding on to the notion that presence of ‘LGBTQ’ is a result of modern-day immorality, this realisation forced me to open my eyes and acknowledge the tangible existence of a community that always lived among us, but was never allowed to be a part of us.

I, however, take consolation from the fact that there are many more students out there today who are supportive of the LGBTQ community. My university friend Rupa Barua is a case in point. “Recently, one of my friends has opened up to me about being lesbian. She’s finding it difficult to explain it to her parents,” Rupa told me, the other day. With so much helplessness surrounding gender inclusiveness, Rupa’s says her only true power is to support all her friends to stay true to themselves, and be there for them when they do decide to come out of the closet.

Sometimes Rupa and I sit and wonder if we can really do something to bring about change, considering we don’t have any power. Even then, we figured, there are things students CAN do to make a difference. Firstly, learn about gender inclusive pronouns. This is not an English lesson, I promise. Most of us live our lives completely oblivious to the importance of pronouns to our identity. Queer people do not have that luxury. Imagine being male and people using ‘she’ to identify you or vice versa. That is an everyday struggle for most queers. So, it is our duty to find out how would they like to be addressed. When we can’t, we should refrain from calling them either male or female.

Identifying one’s pronoun isn’t enough. We also have to do our best to use them as much as possible. This means using them on those pesky posters, surveys, and forms that we hate but are usually forced to fill on campus. Something as small as adding ‘Ze’ to gender options i.e. he/she/ze could make a lot of difference. Another thing that can be done is to include the concept of gender neutrality into events we organise in our colleges.

And lastly, with so much emphasis on seeing the world and its history through the struggles of women, as a queer supporter what we can do is educate ourselves on what life has been like for the LGBTQ community, and try and incorporate it as much as possible in our university life and activities. These things may seem insignificant but can really have a positive impact on lives of our queer friends.