Studying abroad is an important and impactful chapter in a person’s life. It’s a time in which one can get away from their normal everyday lives, branch out from their circle of friends, immerse in a new culture, and not be held back by who they think they are supposed to be. Students who study abroad find they grow in both confidence and independence in unprecedented ways. More importantly, studying abroad offers students a chance to learn more about who they really are.
Regardless of how a student has chosen to label themselves, or where they are in their journey of self-discovery, it’s likely that study abroad will raise some unique questions about their identity. Whether completely out and proud or still unsure of the path they are on, LGBTQ+ students have a lot to consider when it comes to study abroad, and the support of strong allies can make a big difference. In honor of Pride Month, we’ve put together a list of the dos and don’ts for supporting the LGBTQ+ community before, during, and after study abroad.
Do Make Yourself Available.
As your friend is in the ongoing stages of accepting and owning their sexual identity, it is important to make yourself available. Holding a non-judgmental and supportive space for your friend to communicate their feelings is incredibly important. You may find that you are the first person your friend has felt comfortable opening up to in this way.
Don’t Treat Coming Out Like It’s “Just A Phase.”
While everyone’s experience with sexuality is unique, it is important not to belittle the pivotal event of coming out as just a phase. This monumental event will forever change the life of an LGBTQ+ person, and LGBTQ+ folks feel as though they have to come out repeatedly every time they meet someone new. No matter how “out” your friend is when you meet them, their expression of identity should be respected, understood, and treated as an important event.
Do Offer Support.
Whether an LGBTQ+ person is coming out for the first time or if they are naturally exploring their sexuality and evolving perceptions in a new culture, it’s important that they feel safe, supported, and heard. As this is a naturally sensitive time in their life, do be sure that you help them find access to support services, if that is what they ask for. While studying abroad, these support services may be your Resident Director, campus organizations, student clubs, or online resources such as ILGA.
Don’t Push Them.
Coming out and choosing to express one’s identity, especially in a new space, can be emotionally taxing. As an ally, we must not push our friends to come out any faster or act any differently than they are comfortable doing. Otherwise, we could risk putting their emotional health, well-being, and potentially, their safety in jeopardy.
Do Respect Their Privacy.
Coming out is a personal journey and should not be influenced by anyone. It is their decision to disclose their sexual identity to who they want, when they want, and not anyone else’s. As an ally, we must respect their privacy, and make sure that our friends can trust our integrity with their truth. Never out somebody without their explicit permission.
Don’t Tolerate Hate Speech.
If you ever hear hate speech against the LGBTQ+ community take place in your program, regardless of the identities (or perceived identities) of those in your cohort, speak out against it or turn to a USAC staff member for guidance. No person or community should ever feel demoralized, belittled, or disrespected for their identity. Not tolerating hate speech in any context is an important way to protect and support these communities.
Do Support Their Authenticity.
Everyone is entitled to be addressed by whatever pronoun they feel comfortable with, to wear the clothes they want to wear, and to pick a name that best reflects their identity. This sense of authenticity must be supported and appreciated as an ally.
As we said earlier, coming out is a very emotionally sensitive and life-changing part of a person’s life, and choosing to study abroad as an LGBTQ+ student can pose a unique set of challenges – no matter how “out” a student is. As allies to the LGBTQ+ community, USAC is committed to offering a safe and enjoyable study abroad experience for everyone.