from Gay Activism in the Schools
March 3, 2007 - The College Student Journal (Vol. 40, Issue: 3, 2006) published a survey of the perceptions and attitudes of closeted versus out gay and lesbian college students.
Authors Valerie J. Gortmaker and Robert D. Brown state the purpose of the study:
This study compared the campus experiences, perceptions, and needs of out and closeted LG students in hopes of providing insights for improving the campus learning environment for LG students. Because very limited research has explored the heterogeneity of LG students, this study focused on five questions: (1) Is there a difference between out and closeted LG students' perceptions of unfair treatment and need to hide identity from various persons on campus? (2) Is level of outness related to students' perceptions and experiences on campus? (3a) Is level of outness related to students' knowledge, interest, and activity level in LG issues and events? and (3b) Why do LG students not become more active in the LG issues and events? (4) To whom would LG students most likely report anti -LG behavior on-campus? and (5) What needs do out and closeted LG students report and what sources do they seek out?
They surveyed students at a Midwestern state university. Eighty students returned the survey. Most were between 19-22 and 58% of them lived off campus.
After examining the surveys, the authors concluded:
Out students perceived the climate more negatively than closeted students, whereas closeted students felt more need to hide their identity. Closeted students were more likely to hide their identity from students, faculty, and healthcare providers than were out students. Both groups reported receiving unfair treatment and needing to hide their identity the most from other students. Both groups also heard the most anti-LG remarks from other students. Although research suggests that a greater degree of outness leads to more frequent victimization (Waldo, Hesson-McInnis, & D'Augelli, 1998), both out and closeted students in this study reported similar amounts of attacks.
Not surprisingly, closeted students reported less activity within the LG community due to fear and less political activism than out students. Out LG students indicated they had more knowledge about LG topics and participated more in LG-related activities than did closeted students, although both expressed a similar level of interest in LG topics. Additionally, a greater percentage of out students reported having a student network to help them find LG affirming instructors.
Out and closeted LG students differed in the changes they perceived necessary to the campus to meet their personal and academic needs. Out students' greatest expressed need was inclusion of institutional policy statements about LG issues; whereas closeted students' greatest expressed needs were LG library books and magazines. Closeted students also reported a greater need than out students for LG-related courses and organizations.
Out students would most likely report anti-LG incidents to faculty members, whereas closeted students would most likely report to equity access and diversity program staff. This is important, as without access to such persons, students may not report such incidents at all.