International students struggle with LGBT issues

Greg Zwiers

*names have been changed to protect

Many international students do not have the same freedoms when it comes to expressing their sexual orientation that Americans do. In many countries, simply identifying as LGBT can create severe social and legal troubles.

International students who are out at Iowa State have to be careful about what information is given about them and who knows that they are LGBT because of problems they and their families can face if people in their home countries find out.

“You run the risk of if you’re outed, and it’s a negative reaction like coming out to your family or something and it’s negative, then people will hear about it and it could affect not just you, but you’re whole immediate family, as far as like damaging your reputation,” said Josh a student from one of the more westernized Middle Eastern countries.

Josh said there is a risk of being socially ostracized, which can affect your future and getting a job because family reputation is very important there.

“Whenever I bring up new names or new friends he’d always ask what’s their family name, who are their parents,” said Josh about talking with his father.

Sophia, a student from a Caribbean country said reputations are very fragile. If you are looking to get a job different from that of your parents, it really depends on your family’s connections she said.

There is also social stigma related to the LGBT community in these countries. Steven, who was raised and educated in a westernized Middle Eastern state, but is initially from and has spent time in a different country in the region, said if someone is acting gay or feminine in public people would point them out and laugh at them.

Steven is not out to his family because they have made fun of gay people and his family would not accept his sexual identity.

“It bothers me a lot but it’s tradition, it’s culture you can’t do anything about it,” Steven said.

He said in the Arab world it is all about the community and family. There are large family gatherings often and rumors would spread across the country and would affect the family if he was out he said.

Sophia said even though there are places where the LGBT community meets in her country, they are a group that is not respected and you hear horrible things about them.

“You just don’t want to sometimes be friends with them because that can affect you and your family especially, and if you are you usually don’t tell anybody that you’re friends with them,” Sophia said.

“It’s really hard not to be yourself with your family,” Steven said. He said he has around four to five friends back home who know he is gay that he doesn’t have to pretend to be straight around. He said it feels better to be together with other gay people.

In the country where Steven was born, there is a law that says gay people can be arrested, but he said that law is not enforced. He said the gay community is currently working to get the rights to not be discriminated against.

Josh said if two guys are caught in public holding hands or giving public displays of affection that they could get arrested in his country. He doesn’t personally know anyone who has had that experience, but said you hear about those things happening.

“I think in general there’s a lot of homophobia in just the culture because it’s seen as a sin and it’s just seen as wrong,” Josh said. He said back home there is not really anyone he can open up to in the same way as here.

Josh said there is no real sense of community in his home country because it is all behind closed doors.

Sophia said that even though she has friends back home whom she has told that she is bisexual, she can’t tell their parents because even if they did not spread the news, they may keep their kids from spending time with her.

Sophia said her country is very Catholic and growing up and older people are really strict on the issue.

“If you are considered LGBT in public school it would go horribly bad, and even in my school there’s bullying in a private school, but it wouldn’t be as bad as a public school,” Sophia said.

Sophia said she can be as open as she wants here. Whereas, back home if people were to find out about her involvement in Gamma Rho Lambda and the LGBTAA she would have to lie and say she is just an ally.

Josh and Sophia both said when you want to come out it is hard to gauge your parent’s reaction. Sophia has come out to her mother, but fears he father would be disappointed if she told him.

Josh recently came out to his brother, who warned him not to be out when he was home because it would affect him and the family.

Josh’s father made it a point of emphasis to say the phrase don’t make friends with the gays, when he helped Josh move into school before his freshman year.

In Arab countries, there is a lot of societal pressure to get married, or for men to be dating a woman. Steven said he hates it and has a lot of friends, who are being pressured by their parents.

Josh said a lot of gay men marry and have families and children in his country, causing them to struggle with their sexual identity.

Steven said while he is involved in the LGBTAA, he is still hesitant because he knows he will have to go back home.

“It’s hard cause for my future, eventually I’ll definitely want to settle down with a man, but I don’t know how that would happen,” Steven said.