In the landscape of LGBTQ rights, it really does seem to be getting better. Shifts toward marriage equality, non-discrimination laws, and healthcare benefits dominate the mainstream image of progress.
I am lucky to have attended and worked at some universities where this positive change is reflected in policies and practices of everyday life. But not all campuses are like that. Some actively deny LGBTQ students rights and privileges and keep them from feeling safe in their new home environments. Even schools that provide what may seem like great support services often fall short in providing support for trans* students. Many are lacking in all areas.
What can students at institutions do to push for equality in these situations? Progress is never easy or simple, but here are a few words of advice to anyone seeking to make progress on their campuses.
1. Students Have All The Power
During graduate school, my boss was the Director of Equity & Inclusion. She offered me this advice while I was fighting for gender-inclusive housing options on my campus: as hard as staff and administrators fight for students, students like me could make the biggest impact and create the greatest change. I took this advice to heart and formed coalitions and used them to make bigger, stronger statements than I could make alone.
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Advocate For Yourself (And Others).
Power means little if you don’t know how to do the right thing with it. At my undergraduate institution, it took a large student protest on the President’s lawn and a list of demands to make significant gains for LGBTQ equality on campus. Listen to your friends (and to people who may not yet be your friends), particularly those whose voices are often ignored. Create environments where everyone feels part of the conversation, then amplify that conversation across campus together.
Read more: 5 Ways to Get to Know Your LGBTQ Community
3. Know The Laws That Support You.
Many schools seek to deny students the right to meet based on a group’s affiliation with LGBTQ identity; however, there are laws in place that support your case. Organizations like the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, GLSEN, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and GLAAD have excellent resources and can serve as consultants as you navigate this important work.
4. You Have Local, Regional and National Support
Even if there isn’t a local LGBTQ community center nearby, there is likely one in your county or state. Consider contacting colleges and universities with LGBT centers and ask how they got where they are today. I once served as the regional coordinator for a consortium of LGBTQ support services professionals, and there was consensus around the fact that we learned most from one another’s experiences, triumphs and even mistakes. Perhaps most importantly, find your advocates on campus. There will be others who support you, so get to know them and convince them to support the cause.
5. Take Care Of Yourself Along The Way.
I know from personal experience that advocacy for an issue that is personal to you, or that reflects one or more of your identities, can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Find ways to stay energized and mindful and to maintain your forward momentum without compromising your integrity or sense of self. For me, writing is healing and continues to keep me moving forward. Surrounding myself with supportive and loving friends, colleagues and mentors also gives me the strength to pursue the hard things.
Above all, remember this: you are never truly alone in this world of social media, email, and internet love. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help (and to extend your hand to help others when you can). Of course, if I can support you in any way, don’t hesitate to ask.
Brian Reece is the Associate Director of Assessment & Communication at the University of Miami’s Toppel Career Center. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware and holds a Masters Degree from the University of Oregon.