Having a highly flexible schedule can take so much awkwardness and fear out of the equation for LGBTQ homeschoolers. However, it can make choosing the right college much more challenging. While all parents fear that their child will no longer be as safe and as protected in college as they are at home, the fear is heightened for parents of LGBTQ homeschoolers. When your child is gender-creative, experimenting with their identity, and at the cusp of adulthood, they are ready to also experiment with so much more than just how they look and who they hang out with. Teens who are transitioning and identifying as non-binary or transgender might be constantly worrying about how to present themselves in their new environments. Whether to be open or go stealth will affect college housing decisions and a multitude of other things like healthcare and budget plus choice of clothes and accessories.
The truth is we cannot always protect our kids but we can support and encourage them to protect themselves. If you have not already, now is the time to begin thoughtful discussions with your LGBTQ homeschooler about what college life might look like.
Starting the college search process
LGBTQ homeschoolers look for the same things that straight and/or cisgender students do in their college search. They want a rigorous program, good faculty, excellent research opportunities, meaningful general education requirements, great student life, and affordability among other factors.
The questions I ask these kids however, are slightly different. Primarily, we will try to tease out how well a college is set up to support the student’s needs and how comfortable the student will be if the college is not designed for that. I might start by encouraging the student to ask questions like:
- Will you announce your gender identity (and sexuality if applicable) when applying to this college? What might that look like or how might that read in an essay?
- Does this college have an LGBTQ resource center to find others like you when you feel anxious or lonely? What can you do if your favorite college does not?
- Will people at this college respect your preferred pronoun use? What can you do if they don’t?
- Does this college have gender-neutral restrooms? What might happen if you use the restroom for your preferred identity?
There is rarely a right or wrong answer. What’s important is the student discovering angles they might not have considered and making informed decisions as a result.
If a gender-expansive student has started transitioning or will start transitioning while in college, I will ask questions like:
- How will you continue with hormone treatments at college?
- How might dressing and presenting yourself as your preferred identity at this campus look and feel like given what you know about this college?
- Will you get support from your academic advisor if you need to take fewer academic units for a particular semester to help you cope with the physical and emotional changes you are going through?
In some cases, it might be obvious that the student needs to stay closer to home to better avail themselves of loved ones’ support. In other cases, students might want to go as far away from home as they can.
The following are in-a-nutshell suggestions to help you get started in this process.
How parents can help
College searching for LGBTQ homeschoolers can feel very, very new even if you have already sent another child to college. Stay open, as open as you can to what your teen is thinking, feeling and wanting to do. It can be very difficult to stay on the sidelines when you are anxious about the whole process.
For starters, parents of LGBTQ homeschoolers:
- Can never be too supportive. There is however, risk in being too eager with the college application, coming out, and transitioning processes. Keep an eye on the terrain if you must but let your teen take the steering wheel on this one.
- Should encourage and finance college tours to the extent possible. While college tours might not be necessary for every applicant, touring the 4-5 top colleges on your teen’s list can be extremely important for them to get the best feel possible about campus culture.
- Should come up with backup plans if something that the college promises falls through.
How to prepare for the experience
- College tours and/or searching online for student-created campus videos are some good ways to efficiently investigate campus culture. When visiting colleges, ask to speak to someone well-versed with the school’s LGBTQ policies.
- Attend college fairs and speak to admission officers about LGBTQ resources at their school.
- Use sites like CampusPride.org, LGBTCampus.org, and LGBTCenters.org to research resources and meeting places for students within campuses and in their surrounding communities.
- Books like The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students and The Gay and Lesbian Guide to College Life provide more information on how to navigate college life as LGBTQ students.
- Start looking for LGBTQ scholarships, for example, see Point Foundation.
This infographic and shortlist provide some guidance on what to look out for.
A welcoming campus will usually have:
- A list of out faculty and staff.
- Gender-neutral restrooms.
- LGBTQ clubs and student events.
- Courses on gender and queer theory with syllabi that includes queer writers.
- Respectful pronoun-use policies.
- LGBTQ-friendly academic counseling.
- Queer-friendly athletic facilities and locker rooms.
- Gender-inclusive housing.
- LGBTQ counseling and safe spaces.
For a more extensive list, please see this amazing link on CollegeChoice.net.
Please reach out if you need more ideas and college application help!
This article is written by Suji Rajagopal.