U hosts fair for GLBT high school students

by Douglas Rojas

Coming out was a big step for Meg Schmitt.
A sophomore in Logan High School in LaCrosse, Wis., Schmitt found a lot of support from her family when she decided to tell them she was bisexual. But finding this support is not common when it comes to disclosing one’s sexual orientation.
“My family was wonderful,” Schmitt said, and ever since then she keeps an excellent relationship with them. Now, she is youth director of an outreach group that helps students deal with the hardships of discovering their sexual orientation in high school.
Schmitt was one of more than 70 people that attended the second annual Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender College Fair on Friday in Coffman Union. The fair’s goal was to provide an environment where GLBT students could ask and gather information on how colleges and universities can meet their academic goals and personal expectations. About 14 colleges and universities from across the state and the mid-west region participated in the exhibit.
The fair was held in conjunction with the Sixth Annual Network Building Conference for the support of GLBT Youth. Both events organized group sessions focusing on the challenges GLBT students face when making their transition into post-secondary education. The conference’s purpose was also to support youth and their families in dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
“All GLBT (people) need a sense of unity to support each other, and this is a perfect event to do that,” said James Carlson, a 20-year-old volunteer with the Minnesota Association of Young People Aware in Care.
Organizers came up with the idea of having a college fair two years ago. A focus group composed of representatives from Twin Cities GLBT youth programs and college organizations conducted a study that was the impetus for the fair.
The group found out that coming out during high school can have a significant effect in the students’ academic performance and their relationship with their parents.
For some students, the harassment they were exposed to after coming out led to a decline in their concentration, motivation, grades and class attendance.
Dealing with these issues can have a negative impact in high school students and their parents’ relationships, said Erin Ferguson, a community program specialist with the GLBT Programs Office.
Other students throw themselves into many academic and group activities, as an excuse to not talk about their sexuality, said Ferguson, who is also vice president for the Minnesota Student Association.
Ferguson said these groups of students put off coming out until they get to post-secondary education. Often, they see college as a way to escape homophobic environments. Therefore it’s important to make university and college information available to them, she said.
Finding out what kind of resources are available for GLBT students at universities is an important step in choosing the right college, said Brandon Lacy Campos, a senior in political science and Spanish.
It is also important to know the number of hate crimes on campus and the residential hall atmosphere toward GLBT students, said Campos, who is also co-chairman of the Queer Student Cultural Center.
For Campos, the University is very progressive and, in general, students have an open place to be comfortable with their sexuality.
The University not only has an administrative office that promotes different programs throughout the year, but also a department in GLBT studies and an active student cultural group. It also has an open domestic partnership policy that includes benefits to homosexual couples as well, he added.
A college with many resources available for GLBT students would be ideal for Schmitt, who wants to go to a liberal arts school in California. However, treatment toward these students and campus atmosphere would not be more important than academic standards when it comes to choosing the best school.
“I don’t want to let them control my choice. I don’t want people to stand in my way,” she said.