For Many, College Is a Chance to Find Your Community (And Your Pride)
Advocacy In finding a community, Fernanda Melo found the strength to go through her coming out journey.
I am a Latina gay woman. I was born and raised surrounded by breathtaking beaches, warm weather, wild nightlife, soccer games and the flair of Brazilian samba my entire post-adolescent life. Many I am lucky to be born in such a beautiful and fun country like Brazil. And believe me, for the longest time I thought it was a blessing too. Brazil’s image has always been portrayed as having a welcoming, inclusive, warm community where everyone feels loved and cared for. For the most part that is an accurate description of how Brazilians treat everyone; everyone but the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
Always embrace who you are and don’t be ashamed, because in the end, there are people who will love you for who you are, no matter what.
It wasn’t until my exchange year during high school when I went to the United States that I came to realize that I was attracted to girls. Immediately, I became afraid to think about the disappointment I would be to my parents, the treatment I would receive on the streets as I hold hands with a girl and the looks I would get for choosing to have shorter hair and not wear high-heels and a skirt. When I went back to Brazil, I made the decision to hide my secret. I watched my mom aggressively changing the channels whenever there were two girls kissing on a soap opera. I witnessed my dad arguing about how gay men should not get married. I knew at that point that I could not rely on my family for support, so I only confided in my close friends about my sexuality. It was a lonely place to be at times.
Luckily my close friends were willing to help listen and tried to understand. But there is nothing more valuable than people who know you, who get you and are accepting of who you are. I did not feel comfortable with my sexuality until I found a community with people like me.
Once I was back in the United States for college, I was fortunate to meet individuals who were very open and accepting about being LGBTQ. They helped me through my coming out process to myself and slowly others in my life. It is never easy to come out but when you can find someone to talk to it is an immense relief. I found support from my friends, faculty and staff members, and from my girlfriend. These people became my “chosen family” and my familial support when I was feeling down. Each of them inspired me to be true to myself and not be afraid of who I am, or of what people think. The deep connection I forged with my girlfriend and other close friends was only possible because I was finally brave enough to come out to them. I found happiness by being all of who I am.
College can be a scary time for many people, especially those struggling with their sexuality or gender identity, so it is crucial that they know about the resources available. As I write this today, I am volunteering my time with Campus Pride, a national organization that cares deeply about LGBTQ youth, campus safety and provides many helpful resources to improve campus communities. One of them is the Campus Pride Index which provides a way for campuses to benchmark their LGBTQ inclusion efforts and for students like me to find a safer, more welcoming campus. It has been an amazing experience for me to be able to work with Campus Pride and projects that will benefit the LGBTQ community. I am learning about different ways colleges can help build that bridge to support LGBTQ members and provide a safe zone where people feel welcomed and included.
I hope that by reading this, those who are struggling know that there are individuals and organizations that care about you and will not judge you for who you are. Try to be willing to trust them and open yourself up to share your feelings and experiences with them. Personally, I have found that standing for who you are not only makes you more comfortable with your sexuality, but also allows you to become a resource and a friend to those who need guidance. This journey has not been easy, but it has been tremendously rewarding. Always embrace who you are and don’t be ashamed, because in the end, there are people who will love you for who you are, no matter what.