Indian newspaper offers tips for US-bound students

by Admin
Indian newspaper offers tips for US-bound students

For LGBTQ+ international students, Pride Month, observed in June, is a unique time to reflect.

They hold on to multiple identities — both their LGBTQ+ identity and their cultural background — but coming to terms with them is not always easy.

For graduate student David Zhou, these identities can feel conflicting as transgender rights in China remain a controversial issue and spaces for LGBTQ people close. Zhou, 25, is transgender and pursuing an education in the STEM field at an urban university in the Midwestern United States.

VOA is using a pseudonym for Zhou’s first name and is not naming his university to protect his identity due to safety concerns back home in China. Zhou is not open about his transgender identity to his family.

During Pride Month, Zhou said he attended multiple LGBTQ+ events in his community and is surrounded by a supportive group of LGBTQ+ students who can relate to his experiences. But he’s not open about his identity to everyone on campus and said he doesn’t disclose his preferred pronouns to everyone to avoid transphobic comments.

“I feel like I have to make some judgments of the character of that person to see if they’re a good person to disclose [my identity] to,” Zhou said.

Zhou’s Pride Month celebrations included attending local markets with LGBTQ+ vendors and hanging out with his LGBTQ+ friends.

“They normalized being trans and for a long time I feel like trans identity is, should I say a vulnerability, brings me fear and worrying about discrimination, but having those events are helpful because it allowed me to see that queer people could just [live] openly,” he said.

At social events where few international students are present, Zhou said it can be tough to fit in.

“There’s a lot of times like when they were talking about things I kind of, don’t really understand, mostly because I kind of lack some background experience or knowledge,” he said.

Zhou said he is not aware of specific groups for LGBTQ+ international students at his university, but said international students are more prevalent in graduate programs and therefore find representation in organizations for LGBTQ+ graduate students.

In China, transgender individuals must obtain consent from an “immediate family member,” even for adults hoping to transition, which critics say limits the autonomy of transgender individuals while supporters say the policy protects doctors from violence by upset parents.

Struby Struble, a former coordinator of the University of Missouri LGBTQ+ Resource Center, told NAFSA: Association of International Educators in 2015 that LGBTQ+ international students face a “double barrier” on campus.

“With their international student friends, they feel isolated because they’re the LGBT one,” she said. “But then among the LGBT students on campus, they feel isolated because they’re the international one.”

Nick Martin, associate director of the Q Center, Binghamton University’s LGBTQ+ student support office, said when international students tour the center, there’s often a sense of hesitation as they enter a type of space that may not be present in their home country.

“I compare that to a year in after they’ve come into the space, they’ve again, maybe come to some of our events, they’ve got more connected,” he said.

Martin said graduate students have a unique interest in the Q Center as they may use the office for research and advocacy purposes that align with their studies.

“For older students, there may be hesitancy in a different way, but I think it’s more in the vein of they want to do some of the advocacy work,” he said.

Martin said he thinks about how both his office and BU’s international student office can support students who come from countries with few — if any — protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.

“It’s been a learning process of what those students really need, but I think I’ve kind of learned that a lot of students are just looking for the safe space that we offer,” Martin said.

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