Patterson: LGBT student groups provide social safe haven

Columnist Sara Patterson reflects on her first experience with an LGBT student organization.

Sara Patterson

Sara PattersonLast week, in a packed, standing-only room in the Student Center, I went to my first Queer Student Union meeting. It was my first experience with any LGBT student organization. My high school had a Gay-Straight Alliance, but I wasn’t out in high school — to myself or anyone else — so I never felt the need to go.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The only LGBT organizations I’ve been involved with are political ones, groups that assemble at pride events to raise awareness of LGBT issues and ask for donations.

There aren’t any major problems regarding the LGBT community at Temple, at least not to my knowledge, so what would this meeting be about? Not long into the meeting, I realized that this wasn’t a political group, advocating for change on campus, but a social group, creating a safe and accepting place for LGBT students.

At one point in the meeting, some people shared why they had decided to come. One student just wanted to meet more LGBT people, as her old school had only a handful of openly gay students. I think this is the best thing about LGBT organizations like QSU. Just seeing that you’re not the only one, that there are literally enough people to fill a room who either identify as queer or an ally, is a big deal.

Sometimes I don’t realize how lucky I am. I take for granted that a majority of my friends, most of whom I’ve known since I was 12 or 13 years old, are gay and came out right around the same time I did. I’ve never been the “gay friend.” I never had to worry about how my friends would react when I came out because three other people had come out before me. Most people don’t have that. Most people are the only gay person among their friends — sometimes in their whole school or town.

When you go to college, especially one as huge as Temple, you want to find people that you relate to, that you have something in common with.

Another QSU member put it bluntly and said, “I’m hoping to get some numbers.”

Now — apparently — people use college as an opportunity to meet people and go out on dates. I spend my Saturday nights at home watching “Doctor Who,” so I wouldn’t know anything about that. But for those that do want to spend their weekends out with a significant other — although I highly recommend “Doctor Who” — it’s hard.

It’s hard enough for straight people and they have the luxury of knowing that the majority of people around them are also heterosexual. We have the added difficulty of not being able to assume that the cute boy or girl that we’ve been chatting up at the sock hop — that’s where college students go on the weekend, right? — is gay as well.

Student groups like QSU create a dialogue among students. Whether it is about their own personal issues or those on a more campus; city or state-wide scale, getting like-minded students together is the best way to talk about these things.

The fact is, we get very little formal education about gender and sexuality. For the most part, we’re left on our own to figure this stuff out, which, for young adults who are probably confused and nervous and even a little scared, is a lot of responsibility.

Having a group of fellow students the same age who have gone through, or are currently going through, the same things as you, creates a sense of comfort and safety that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

When asked why they had decided to spend their Monday night at a QSU meeting, everyone who answered said they did so for social reasons. They wanted to meet new people. They wanted to talk to other LGBT students. They wanted to find a potential new love interest.

That’s not to say that political issues aren’t important — LGBT issues are playing a major role in the upcoming presidential election. But for college students who are still coming into their own and figuring out who they are, it is much more crucial for them to have a safe and accepting place on campus, which is exactly what Temple’s QSU provides.

Sara Patterson can be reached at

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