Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) students are members of our community. Unlike other underrepresented students, many GLBT students are "invisible" because sexual orientation and gender identity are not always determined through physical expression, or because some students choose not to be out. Some students do talk about their sexual orientation or gender identity openly. Mentors have the responsibility, regardless of their own sexual orientations, to maximize learning and professional opportunities for all their protégés. You can help your academic community eliminate, or be more aware, of the following:


Homophobia

Even within a fairly accepting climate such as ours, GLBT students can still encounter homophobia around campus. Behaviors can range from the blatantly offensive, such as verbal or physical threats or attacks, to the less obvious, such as the casual remark "that is so gay" in classroom or hallway conversations.

Heterosexism

Many graduate students and professors discuss topics with the unconscious assumption that everyone is heterosexual. Even some straight faculty and students who have a heightened awareness of gender issues might still talk about the world from a heterosexual perspective. GLBT students experience such scholarly discussions as biased, and the absence of GLBT perspectives can make them feel isolated from opportunities for intellectual engagement.

Genderism

Similarly, many people on campus assume that all individuals identify fully with the gender in which they were raised. Genderism is the assumption that male and female assignments of gender are fixed at birth. This is not the case for every person. Gender biases in classrooms and departments (e.g., saying "it" to refer to individuals of ambiguous gender; gendered bathrooms) are oppressive to individuals who feel the need to alter their gender identity.

Disclosing

Being out as a GLBT student is not a one-time event, but a decision experienced in each new social situation. Each new interaction comes with the burden of having to assess the personal, social, and political ramifications of disclosure. Heterosexual students do not bear this weight when interacting with peers and professors.

Resources

To learn about special programs and activities for GLBT graduate students:

Suggestions for Students

  • Assume that GLBT students or faculty are present in every classroom, lab, seminar, or campus meeting, and that they might not feel safe being out.
  • Assess your department's environment and your level of comfort with being out if you are a GLBT student. Find out who your allies are and utilize them.
  • Ask peers and mentors whom you know to be out to suggest how department members can create an environment conducive to everyone's learning and professional needs.
  • Establish standards for inclusive language and communication collaboratively with your peers and professors.
  • Avoid homophobic, gendered, sexist, or other discriminatory comments. For example, when talking about families, avoid talking as if every family were composed of a husband, wife, and children. Use words like spouse and partner instead of just spouse or husband or wife. These terms go a long way in letting GLBT students and unmarried students know they are represented in discussions.
  • Treat sexual orientation as a multidimensional phenomenon in your relationships with peers and mentors. Understand that homosexuality is only one of several expressions of sexual orientation, and that gender identity may not be fixed for everyone.
  • Encourage your department to put GLBT concerns on the agenda for graduate student orientations and training programs for faculty and staff.

Suggestions for Faculty

  • Assume that GLBT students are present in every classroom, lab, seminar, or campus meeting in which you participate and that they might not feel safe being out.
  • Establish standards for language use and communication when you interact with graduate students. Convey that your goal in doing so is to ensure an environment that is conducive to effective learning and achievement.
  • Avoid using examples that are exclusive to heterosexual experiences. For example, when talking about families, avoid talking as if every family were composed of a husband, wife, and children. Words like "spouse" and "partner" instead of just "spouse" or "husband" or "wife" go a long way in assuring that GLBT students and students who are single are represented in discussions.
  • Ask students whom you know are out to discuss with you how best to address their learning and professional needs. Ask them if they are willing to foster discussions about how sexual orientation in academic settings can be handled productively.
  • Realize that your mentoring is more effective if you develop sensitivity to sexual orientation as a multi-dimensional phenomenon. That is, homosexuality is only one of several expressions of sexual orientation.
  • Discuss how discriminatory remarks impede the learning process, not only of GLBT students but of all students.
  • Encourage your department to put GLBT concerns on the agenda of graduate student orientations and faculty and staff training programs.