How to Find Other LGBTQIA+ Friends in College
First, I’d like to start with an editor’s note. These tips can pertain to all people in the LGBTQIA+ community. I want to clarify that the common use of the word “Queer” is meant as a blanket term for all people under the umbrella of our community.
The term “Queer” to me and many others, includes gay people, lesbians (like me!), bisexuals, trans people, nonbinary folks, asexual/aromantic individuals, and anyone else who considers themselves to be a part of our wonderful community.
Being an LGBT(+) person in college can be an incredibly isolating experience, in particular, for trans or gender non conforming individuals. College is a time that many people take as an opportunity to start fresh.
For LGBT people, this may mean that college is the time they decide to come out of the closet or to start gender-affirming care (such as HRT or a legal name change). As much as Queer and trans people tend to stick together, our demographic is, statistically, really quite small.
According to a recent study by the UCLA school of law, only 3.5% of Americans identify as LGBT, and only 0.3% of that statistic is trans or gender non-conforming individuals. It can be additionally isolating to be apart of the minority groups within the community, like trans, asexual, or lesbian-identifying people.
The experience of minority communities within our larger umbrella group are separate in many ways from other, more common identities, and it can feel isolating to struggle entirely relating to members of the LGBT community as a whole.
College may provide a unique challenge of finding safe people to talk to about such a large part of your identity, and that challenge is exacerbated by the current headlines. Between protesters at drag events and threats to trans healthcare, it can be an incredibly scary time to be LGBT.
The more recent decades have been full of political turmoil for our community, so the recent uproar is no surprise, but it doesn’t make it any less stressful to live as a member of this community.
There are, however, many ways to keep yourself safe and find other LGBT people on campus. Let’s start with some more obvious tips on how to “spot,” so to speak, new potential friends that may more likely to be LGBT.
Fun fact, the long running joke about Queer people having a “gaydar” is somewhat based in reality. There really are visual signals that someone may be Queer.
Historically, LGBT individuals have used certain fashion to signify their status as a Queer person. Ellie Hurst, Queer history educator and author of the blog “Dressing D-kes” speaks about the history of Doc Marten shoes as a signal of lesbianism. In one of her TikTok videos she talks about how for decades Doc Martens (and other army/work-style boots) have been a staple of lesbian fashion.
In the 70’s-80’s, big, chunky boots like these were widely acknowledged within Queer communities as a signifier of lesbianism. There were even sneaky advertisements in the newspaper about this topic.
One such advert is by Tomato Publications, though they no longer exist in the modern day. Doc Martens and other work boots have since been adopted more broadly by Queer people of all kinds, not just lesbians.
Obviously, gay people don’t just walk around with chunky boots on. There’s not a uniform for being gay, but Queer people have a rich and fascinating history of fashion that still carries over to the modern day.
It’s not a guarantee, but there are definitely some tropes that may help you out. A decently reliable signifier that someone may be Queer is ‘alternative fashion’. Alternative fashion is simply defined as a way of dressing or looking that is significantly different from the mainstream fashion of a community. (Think “goth” or “hyper-femme” styles).
Gay and trans people have a long and complex history of alternative fashion. Queer people love a flair for the dramatics. Look at drag queens (and kings), for instance.
Alternative fashion looks like a lot of things. It could be unnatural hair colors, lots of piercings, punk-esque-attire, or even “hyper-femme,” vintage-y fashion. Queer people, in general, take a lot of pride in expressing themselves.
A lot of us already feel quite ostracized, so why try to blend in, right? Many of us are proud of our identities and a unique style of dress is a common way that people make that pride visible.
There are, of course, more practical and reliable ways to meet new LGBT+ friends in college. Not everyone feels comfortable taking a leap of faith based solely on outward-expression, and it’s understandable why you wouldn’t.
If you’re looking for good ways to find new Queer friends, you may wish to see if your college has a GSA (gay/straight alliance) club or other equivalent community organization. Lots of schools and other public organizations have clubs for Queer people (and sometimes allies) in the community.
If your school has a beginning of the year club-fair or assembly, you may not want to miss it! That might help you find new crowds to spend your time with.
It’s not the end of the world if you’re busy that day, however. Asking trusted staff members about gay/trans support groups on campus is always worth a try. Remember, these staff members see hundreds if not thousands of people a day.
They have definitely met Queer students, and there’s a solid chance they have gotten to know some of these students on a personal level. Chances are, if you felt comfortable talking to them about this type of thing, plenty of others did too.
Let’s say your school doesn’t have these kinds of groups. What now? Rest assured all hope is far from lost. If your school doesn’t have support groups for Queer students, your local community surely does.
I’m from the Inland Empire area of California, and we have plenty of LGBT community groups if you know where to look. I am involved heavily with my community’s LGBT events, and finding them was not as difficult as you might think.
California is a relatively progressive state but Queer people exist even in the most conservative areas of the world. It’s pretty impossible to keep us out! The first and easiest step is to search the web. “(Your college’s city) LGBT organizations.”
If you’re lucky, you’ll see some good options. A lot of community LGBT organizations host events year-round, so you won’t need to wait until June. If you don’t find any organization off a quick Google search, the next step is to check social media. Try phrases like “(your city) LGBT” or “LGBT events in (your city/county).”
You may also want to check similar hashtags on Instagram or look through the geo-tagged posts for your local community to see if you find anything interesting. My local LGBT organization hosts a semi-annual hike and regular movie nights. You never know what fun you might find when you start looking!
It might feel like your pool of potential friends is small, and maybe it actually is. Your concerns about finding a community are valid, and not being able to find that community right away is not a reflection on you.
It’s important to remember that you won’t click with everyone. It’s best not to force relationships that simply aren’t for you. If you don’t enjoy hanging out with someone, you don’t have to be their friend. It’s not personal, it doesn’t make you a mean person – not everybody is meant to get along.
When the time is right, you’ll find your community. There are plenty of Queer people to befriend in the world. College is a time when many LGBT people come out for the first time.
New people discover themselves every single day, and once you get settled into your new community, there will be no shortage of friendly, Queer faces around.
As we all know, the month of June is celebrated as “Pride month” in the US. Pride month can be another great opportunity for Queer individuals seeking new friendships with members of their community. There are plenty of events, big and small, hosted around this time of year.
In Southern California, we have things like the annual “Long Beach Pride” festival in Long Beach, CA. There’s also well known pride events that happen in places like Salt Lake City, Utah, Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles, California. Your city, or the cities near to you, might surprise you with fun, communal opportunities.
It might seem intimidating to attend one of these events for the first time, but the people there are absolutely warm and welcoming individuals. Queer spaces are generally places of acceptance and love, and no one is going to judge you for being new.
I was nervous when I went to my first pride celebration too, but I ended up having a great time and meeting lots of new, wonderful people. Pride celebrations, especially within college towns, are a great opportunity to swap-socials and make lasting connections with members of your local community.
If you’re new to a city and the summer months are rolling around, consider making arrangements to attend pride celebrations in the upcoming months. They’re great opportunities to connect with other LGBT people in your local community. The best part is, many of these events are low cost or free!
If you’re still at a loss, there are more indirect ways to find your city’s Queer population. Attending community events that are not LGBT related may be a great way to get started.
Maybe your city hosts an art crawl or has a local theater group, or maybe there’s a fun hobby show. You might not hear about these types of events organically. It is possible to find a registry of most cities’ community events on the internet. (Wonderful place, isn’t it?)
You can easily find lists of upcoming community events by searching phrases like “(your city) community events.” The people who frequent these events may be Queer themselves, but if not, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to point you in the right direction towards LGBT-central community events.
If you are a religious or spiritual person, consider looking into LGBT-affirming churches/synagogues/mosques/etc in your college’s city. It may be a more difficult thing to find.
As many of us know, gay and trans people have had a tumultuous history with religious organizations. Many places of worship are not Queer-friendly, but there are ones in existence.
Many religious organizations are proud of their LGBT inclusivity and advertise the fact that they support our community very openly. This means, thankfully, that these spaces are easily found online.
A lot of college towns tend to be more progressive areas, so the chances you’ll find Queer-friendly religious groups is higher. It may be easier in a college city to seek out these kinds of communities than it would have been in your hometown.
There may even be religious groups on your school’s campus, such as an organized Christian club. If you’re a religiously-inclined member of the LGBT community, exploring places of worship near your new school may be worth a shot to find new members of both your Queer and spiritual community.
Despite all efforts, finding new friends can be a challenge, especially in an unfamiliar environment. College is a great place to start new, meaningful relationships, but if you’re struggling to make new connections, it’s not a reflection on you.
Everybody is nervous about meeting new people at first. If you’re meant to be friends with someone, it’ll happen eventually. Your community will grow as time goes on.
It may feel isolating to be one of the only Queer people you know, but it won’t be that way forever. The LGBT community tends to stick together (as many of the running jokes imply.) You won’t be the only Queer student looking for new friends.
There’s a good chance other people will find you to befriend. Starting college can be stressful, but give it time. Being Queer is an amazing thing, and you’ll find a wonderful community of supportive friends eventually.
thisisloyal.com, Loyal |. “How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?” Williams Institute, 3 Feb. 2021, https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/how-many-people-lgbt/.
Hurst, Ellie. “Dressing Dykes.” Dressing Dykes, Ellie Hurst, 25 Mar. 2022, https://dressingdykes.com/.
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