LGBTQ student voices amplified through online college fair

Fairs are really important because students are looking for schools to accept their LGBTQ identities, to be represented and have schools vouch for them," said Megan Carney, director of UIC's Gender and Sexuality Center. (Megan Long/Megan Long Photography)

By Dawnn Anderson

More than half of LGBTQ students said they feel threatened at school due to their sexual orientation, and almost that many said they feel the same way because of how they prefer to express their gender.

That is according to the 2013 National School Climate Survey. Cognizant of hostile learning environments that exist for this community, Campus Pride, a national nonprofit working toward safer college environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Queer or questioning students, will host the very first LGBTQ-friendly online college fair March 19. The event is part of a national college fair program that encompasses seven to eight cities per year.

“There are so many schools that are taking major strides in ensuring that LGBTQ students feel safe and have healthy, happy environments on campus, so students can be the best that they can be,” said Rebby Kern, Campus Pride’s media, communications & programs manager.

Students will interact directly with college representatives and have the opportunity to ask specific questions in one-on-one conversations. During the live fair, scheduled for 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. EDT, there will also be a three-part Twitter chat: what makes a college LGBTQ-friendly; how to find scholarships; and how to transition from high school to college as an LGBTQ student.

“After eight years of in-person college fairs, we wanted to broaden access to students in the South and more conservative areas, to serve youth who are disadvantaged socioeconomically,” said Campus Pride’s executive director, Shane Windmeyer, who will facilitate the first twitter conversation.

Campus Pride will co-host the event with GLSEN, whose extensive research efforts focus on the experience of LGBTQ youth in grades K-12. In 2013, GLSEN, which stands for Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, conducted an online survey. In that survey, over 7,800 LGBTQ students between the ages of 13 and 21 expressed their views about attending school given their sexual identity and gender orientation.

“What we know to be true about student life in K through 12, specifically high schools, is with higher levels of exploitation, we see lower GPAs, lower self-esteem and confidence.

You can’t discriminate against cisgender [gender assigned at birth] boys and girls in school, but you can discriminate against trans students,” said Ikaika Regidor, youth programs associate at GLSEN.

Regidor said one of the most unfortunate things that he has seen is discrimination at the state level among policy makers, referring to a recent decision by the state of Kentucky.

Last month, the Kentucky State Senate approved a bill that would confine transgender students to using school bathrooms that match their biological sex or to unisex bathrooms.

“At the same time, I think one of the most exciting things that came out of our most recent survey was that 91 percent of LGBTQ students actually say they want to go to college,” Regidor said.

Regidor said virtual booths will be staffed from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. EDT.

Students will see a profile of the college representative with whom they are interacting, not necessarily an actual person. The same goes for the college representative regarding one’s access to student name, age, school and graduation year.

Over 50 universities are scheduled to participate, including Columbia College Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“There are systemic barriers around being seen for who you are that really gets in the way of having a holistic academic experience,” said Megan Carney, director of UIC’s Gender and Sexuality Center. Carney said identity issues make for a distractive learning experience that can impede academic achievement.

“We believe that it doesn’t just get better by going to college,” Kern said, “but to the right college.”

“Fairs are really important because students are looking for schools to accept their LGBTQ identities, to be represented and have schools vouch for them,” said Megan Carney, director of UIC’s Gender and Sexuality Center. (Megan Long/Megan Long Photography)