For LGBT students, University provides safe haven

Melissa Gindin couldn’t sleep. She was spending more and more nights tossing in her bed and wrestling with a secret she had known since she was five years old.

Finally, at 15, the current junior sat up and told herself something she had always known, but never said out loud.

“I’m gay,” she said to herself, ending a decade of questions and denial.

For some lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students at GW, the University’s gay-friendly atmosphere is a draw, providing a safe environment for students who struggled to find peace at home.

In the past, many who identify as LGBT felt they had to move away from home before coming out, but younger generations are coming out earlier, according to recent articles published in the New York Times and USA Today. Out of more than a dozen gay students The Hatchet interviewed, nine said they came out in high school. Four said they are still not out at home.

GW does not track the number of LGBT students on campus – unofficial estimates put the number at one in three – but GW was given four out of five stars by the LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index, a division of Campus Pride, for its LGBT policies and practices.

Urban universities often attract LGBT students, Allied in Pride President Michael Komo said.

“Universities in Metro areas tend to be more progressive,” Komo said. “When I was looking for colleges, I looked for schools that were progressive, that had resource centers and had a gay-friendly community.”

For Gindin, her coming-out process spanned over a decade.

“I was five, I didn’t know what gay was,” she said. “I was in tremendous denial for about 10 years.”

At home in Brooklyn, Gindin said she dressed more femininely, but after graduation, when she was coming to college, she cut her hair short. Originally she went to the University of Massachusetts but transferred because Amherst was “too conservative.” GW, she said, is very gay-friendly, with an active gay-male community, though she noted the female community is often small and “forgotten.”

Freshman Markia Lee agreed with Gindin’s sentiment that GW was a gay-friendly University.

“I found my identify at GW,” she said. “I’m so proud now and so wanting to talk about it. When I came to GW everything became focused.”

At GW, Gindin is a member of Alpha Phi Omega and the College Democrats. She interned on Capitol Hill and does advocacy work for Allied in Pride, where she meets with administrators and lobbies for gender-neutral housing and an LGBT minor.

This advocacy is important for Gindin. While she does not want to spend her life working solely on LGBT issues, Gindin said sometimes people typecast gay women – she does not like the term lesbian – into masculine roles. This is an issue that personally affects Gindin, as she does not like make-up and feels “uncomfortable in dresses.”

“I am a woman, I want to be a woman,” she said. “But, I don’t think women have to wear make-up or dresses. I don’t think you need to confine yourself into this stereotype.”

She said that often in lines, when a cashier or barista at Starbucks is addressing customers as “sir” or “ma’am,” “they are going to call me sir.”

“I’ve adjusted to it really well. I’ve come to terms with it,” Gindin said. “It’s a choice that I make and I accept the consequences.”

She added, “Sometimes my friends have no idea how to handle it, though.”

Gindin is “out” at school and at home. When she came to term with her sexuality, she reached out to her parents, grandparents and friends, slowly telling them. It was something they weren’t surprised to hear, she said.

Still, some gay men and women – particularly those from conservative backgrounds – can find coming out difficult. For students still struggling with being open about their identity, GW’s LGBT resource center hopes to begin “Coming Out 101” classes.

Komo said the “Coming Out” sessions are designed to help students transition in college.

“We have students that come from almost every state and from all around the world who didn’t always have a supportive environment or… role models,” Komo said. “We want to show them how to come out in a safe environment.”

A sophomore student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he is out to some friends at home, but most of his family does not know he is gay.

He grew up in a conservative household, in which his parents, both Catholic, touted religion and family values.

“I was brought up to believe that homosexuality was a disease,” he said. “So when I first started feeling these things, I thought something was wrong with me.”

His first same-sex physical relationship was fueled by curiosity and alcohol, and started a string of unhealthy relationships that were hidden at his all-Catholic high school.

“I would see the person I was dating at school and I never knew if they were mad at me, or if they were just ignoring me because we were at school. That was hard,” he said. “I finally went to a counselor, who told me, ‘Nothing is wrong with you.’ “

After seeing the state-sponsored counselor, his parents sent him to a “straight-shrink,” a non-licensed therapist who specializes in convincing homosexuals that “something in our past made us gay,” the student said.

“It really hurt my relationship with my parents because they sat in this room, watching this guy dig into me and they did nothing,” he said.

Whereas his home life has been constrictive and at times combative, he said his life at GW is a “relief.”

“GW is a huge improvement… it allowed me to get level-headed,” he said. “It’s not like the rest of the country and I didn’t know places like these existed.”

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