The first steps you take on campus your freshman year mark the beginnings of a journey towards self discovery. Away from high school drama and the all-seeing eyes of parents, an infinite number of opportunities and experiences are in reach. College marks a new chapter in our lives. It means an opportunity to construct our identity of self — who we are, what career path we want to follow and how we want to live our lives.
With this new-found freedom, it is common for students who are sure of — or questioning — their sexual orientation to discover and accept who they are and come out to others.
“College is when you are here to learn, not just studies, but to also learn about yourself — that goes on many different levels,” said Nate Todd, a junior communication studies major, who identifies as a gay male. “Taking a safe risk and just being confident in who you are is something completely worth it.”
Coming from a conservative hometown, Todd, who recognized as bisexual up until he started at CSU, said he remained ‘closeted’ to most people before he attended CSU. Meeting and surrounding himself with accepting friends during his freshman year, Todd felt supported and safe.
“CSU was kind of like my rebirth, my new life,” said Todd, co-director of the Drag Show put on each year by the Student Organization for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender. “What better way to start a new life than be truthful about everything you are? I don’t believe hiding your sexuality is something anyone should do.
Although coming out is a different process for everyone, it generally follows four stages, according to the CSU Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, and Ally Resource Center’s website. In the first stage of the process, a person positively accepts the identified sexual orientation. Celebrating and being confident in one’s sexual orientation is the second stage. The third stage involves coming out to a small group of people, such as friends, family members or other gay people. Lastly, the fourth stage involves coming out to a large audience with the person freely expressing pride and confidence in the identified sexual orientation.
The right time to come out is also different for each person, but safety is always key, said Derick Murray, a student intern at GLBTQQA.
“When someone feels safe is when it is the best time (to come out),” said Murray, a junior business major, who identifies as a gay male. “If there is some sort of uneasiness in your safety, physically, mentally or emotionally, in my experience, I think there needs to be a little bit more of an evaluation in terms of the relationship you have with someone or how comfortable you are with coming out.”
Murray, like Todd, also fully came out when he started college. Opening up to his family when he was in his teens, Murray hid his sexual orientation during high school. Starting his freshman year at CSU, Murray found a strong support group, and over the years, became more involved with resource groups on campus.
Both Murray and Todd said coming out resulted in improved relationships, higher confidence and an overall happiness with being completely themselves.
“For me, coming out signified feeling completely myself and accepted by the people around me,” Murray said. “It made my friendships and relationships so much more genuine and that was a big stepping stone for me, gaining a lot of confidence in my personal life and just being able to walk through the world with confidence and not feeling like I was hiding something.”
College in general can provide a more accepting environment for self-discovery, but both Murray and Todd said CSU is particularly accommodating of LGBT students. On campus groups and resources, gender inclusive bathrooms, anti-discrimination policies and insurance benefits all contribute to movement towards equality.
“We have a university that strives for social justice and I think that is what makes us a better university,” Todd said.
College means finding yourself – a fulfilling, yet scary experience all in one. It is not a journey we have to take alone, or one that isn’t worthwhile.
“Just know that you are not alone and that there are people out there that really do care about you and want to see the best for you,” Todd said. “If you surround yourself by supportive people then you will be supported and if you aren’t supported — come find me.”
College Avenue Managing Editor Ricki Watkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.