College and university

Some of the young people and adults we spoke to talked about important experiences they had at college or university. Although young people had mixed experiences at university, some described finding new opportunities or communities and friends that provided freedom of expression and sometimes much needed support.

In this section you can find experiences of:

  • Exploring new opportunities and identities
  • Finding queer communities and support networks
  • College and university support

Exploring new opportunities and identities

Several young people who went to university and/or college described valuing the different opportunities and ways they could explore their identities there. Jessica felt a lot of her college peers were LGBT so she felt ‘much less alone’. Noelle did politics A-level which sparked an interest in feminism and led to her finding out more about LGBTQ+ issues. She said ‘it was there that I learned a lot about trans people and as I was learning it was kind of like mmm… that sort of applies to me.’

Cassie said ‘it wasn’t really until I came to university that [my gender identity] was something that I could properly really start exploring’. She described university as the place she could ‘come to that realisation and acceptance’ as she met more trans people. Jack felt ‘much more comfortable, being able to explore my identity’ at university.

Patrick talks about his support in college and the value of being able to share his experiences with people.

Age at interview 20

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Ari talks about coming to university and gaining confidence to celebrate their identity’ with the support of the university.

Age at interview 23

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Not all of the young people we spoke to had positive experiences at university. H described getting depressed and dropping out. He said, ‘when I went to Uni [is] when you see the difference between bodies, the real difference between the male and female body…I was just like, what the hell? Why is my body not like that?’ He felt pressure from family members and changed to a closer university but ‘even there I just couldn’t click with it’.

Erion talks about his experience of changing university when he didn’t feel respected.

Age at interview 22

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Finding queer communities and support networks

LGBTQ+ support networks and building friendships at college or university helped some young people feel more comfortable in exploring their identity. For some this was the first time they encountered a queer community. Rahul said, ‘The people that I was surrounded with all through university were predominantly queer or at least open-minded and acknowledging and aware of transgender issues.’

N said, ‘My life became very, very queer once I got to uni.’ They described it as ‘a slow immersion into things that felt right or good’. They were introduced to ‘queer film festivals’ and ‘sought out a lot more trans stories’. PJ felt that ‘going to uni helped a lot, cos that made me think of looking forward to something else, and surrounding …myself with a good support network like my friends at the minute are like my family.’

Henry describes being part of the LGBTQ+ association and how it was a really transformative’ experience.

Age at interview 25

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Bay reflects on their time in the LGBTQ+ association. They say finding that support came at a really important time.

Age at interview 28

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Some young people talked about finding their university’s LGBT societies as valuable support networks, and meeting others who were non-binary and trans at meet ups. Others described feeling they didn’t fit in LGBT spaces. N felt less part of that community as a person of colour. They said, ‘there was like a LGBT society at my uni, but I never really felt like I fit in there. I think partly cos it was also just like very white lesbian and white gay.’

Jessica talks about valuing her tight knit community’ at college and feeling much less alone.

Age at interview 17

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G speaks about identifying as non-binary and the transformative impact of finding a queer commune.

Age at interview 23

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College and university support

When coming out at university or college a number of young people we spoke with talked about support from college or university staff and processes. Some talked about their experiences of changing names and pronouns and the importance of having the correct names and pronouns on administrative systems (see also Experiences of GP surgeries).

Theo talked about how changing their name at university was one of the first actions they took in the process of coming out. They met with staff who ‘said they were gonna change my name on my ID card and get all the teachers to change my name.’

Charke had concerns about the binary systems of registering for university with UCAS. The forms only had option of male or female.

Age at interview 17

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Some people also valued the support they received from the Students Union and wellbeing services. Reuben appreciated the visibility of trans people in the Students Union at his university. PJ said ‘The wellbeing service have been also really helpful with LGBT issues, cos they’re very inclusive and very knowledgeable about that stuff, and they hand out really good like helplines, like trans helplines and that.’

Reuben said his mental health support service has ‘been amazing… it’s just been nice to have a safe space to be able to go’. He said, ‘I think it’s important for trans people to be able to have a space as well to talk about how they’ve been feeling instead of just having to shut up and bottle it up and not talk about it and act like everything’s fine.’

Reuben talks about their experience of support at university getting their name updated and the support from the Students’ Union.

Age at interview 22

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PJ talks about his experience of coming out at university and the support provided by changing details and the wellbeing service.

Age at interview 21

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Some people didn’t have positive experiences with staff and processes at college or university. Jaz said she didn’t have support from university when changing her details. She said, ‘Not getting any kind of resources, like having any kind of institutional interaction around that, in a way that was like really unhelpful’. PJ said he was misgendered by a lecturer at university which he said, ‘it was just really embarrassing more than anything, so I didn’t, didn’t want to get more embarrassed so I just left it’. Jack says people at university have been quick to correct themselves when it’s been pointed out to them. Trans and gender diverse young people are protected from discrimination at college and university by the Equality Act 2010.

Jack speaks about the support from the university with a lecturer who posted transphobic content on Twitter.

Age at interview 22

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See also:

School 

Journeys to identifying as trans and gender diverse

Changing names and pronouns

Views on LGBTQ+ education

The young people we spoke to talked about their experience of being taught about LGBTQ+ issues and lives in school and made suggestions about how...