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Back to School: How to Prepare as an LGBTQ+ Student

By: Jeremy Wallace, CAMPUSPEAK Speaker

It’s back to school time again, and for many students, time to head to campus! Attending a college or university is exciting, but can also be overwhelming, and the apprehension and nervousness may be even greater for those students who identify as transgender, gender queer or gender non-conforming. The best way to alleviate some of the concerns and fears is to be prepared, or as prepared as one can be.

What does that look like? Well, the number one thing to do is ask. Ask as many questions as you can think of and continue to ask different people or departments until you get an answer. Ask before you get to campus, so you will have a heads up and the opportunity to voice your concerns privately. For example, housing is a large concern for students, and transgender students need to know what their living arrangments will be, before arriving on campus. Make sure to ask the college or university for specifics. Are dorms coed? What is the campus policy as it relates to gender specific housing and how do they support transgender students? What policies or procedures are in place if a transgender student needs assistance or feels threatened? Campus housing, especially the dorms/apartments on campus are there to provide a safe living space for all students, and it’s the school’s duty to make sure that it truly applies to ALL students.

Secondly, take time to find the campus LGBTQ+ center or pride group if they have one, and stop in. These groups are equipped and prepared to help LGBTQ+ students’ transition to campus life and will not only be a great resource but also can be the foundation for a wonderful support system. If your college or university doesn’t have a specific campus pride organization, check with the local town the school is located in to see what resources are available to the LGBTQ+ community. Again, they can be a wealth of knowledge for supporting your academic life, and beyond.

Also, for those students who use a name that is different from their legal birth name, be prepared to see that “old” name on official school documents and records. And until you have a chance to talk directly with any faculty, also be prepared for that awkward moment of being called by the ‘wrong” name. The school isn’t trying to hurt you; it’s just a matter of having to use your legal name for record keeping, and they haven’t met you yet. Personally, I hate that policy, but I haven’t figured out a work-around. Now, if you encounter faculty or staff that continues to use your birth name and misgender you, that’s a whole different story, and again where the campus pride group can help you to address that. The reason I bring up the issue of legal names is that for many, seeing and hearing your birth name, and with the expectation that you will acknowledge and respond to that name, is a trigger and can cause mental and emotional distress. Until I legally changed my name, being called by my birth (female) name was a source of anxiety and embarrassment, and reinforced my body/gender dysphoria. If it helps, practice what you might say or do when those moments occur, and hopefully, you will be pleasantly surprised that the real life experience goes much smoother than expected.

For the students who have legally changed their name and documents, be prepared and bring notarized copies of your name/gender marker change. You may never need them, but having immediate access to the documents can save time and future errors. Just tuck them away in a safe place, and relax knowing you’re covered.

Like I said before, college is exciting, and hopefully, your experience with higher education will be a time in your life that you look back with fondness. The best way to increase those chances is to do some homework before you begin. Find out as much as you can before classes start, but continue to ask questions throughout your academic career, ask for help and seek out the allies. College is far more than just taking classes; it’s the entire experience of being on your own and learning more about yourself, and the more information you have beforehand, the better your chances are of success during the school year.

Learn more about Jeremy Wallace and his diversity and inclusion keynotes at campuspeak.com/wallace.