‘University became my safe space’: Five LGBTQ+ young people on coming out whilst at uni

‘Being away from home made me realise I had to come out and start living as a man’


Ryan realised he wasn’t straight while still at school but due to bullying and his religious upbringing, he never felt comfortable expressing his true identity. But when he went away to university, far away from home, things felt like a fresh start and he saw it as an opportunity to be more open about who he really was.

For a lot of LGBTQ+ young people, university can be a chance to express their real self and stop shying away from their sexuality. The Tab spoke to five young queer people about their experiences of coming out whilst at uni, here’s what they had to say:

‘Being away from home made me realise I had to come out and start living as a man’

Ryan came out when he moved away to uni from home and his religious household. He told The Tab being away from home gave him the time and space to properly explore his feelings around gender and made him realise he “had to come out and start living as a man.” He said the distance from home and knowing he had places to get support made him less afraid to come out to his family. Ryan also told The Tab people at uni took both of his coming outs well, he said: “I wasn’t the only LGBTQ+ person on my course – though I was the first to come out as trans – and everyone wanted to fully support me in being the genuine me.”

Ryan, he/him

‘I felt like I was lying to my family and denying my feelings’

Jamie, a recent Drama and Theatre graduate told The Tab he was in first year when he first came out to his friends and flatmates and then in his final year he came out to his parents. He said his first year flatmates were the first people he ever came out to before his mates because it felt easier telling people who he didn’t really know.

He described his experience as being positive and said he was able to find his group of people. But the worst part for Jamie was coming home for the holidays. He told The Tab he felt as though he was lying to his family about his true identity. “I denied a lot of things that went on at uni, like about boys and stuff. I felt like I was leading two different lives.”

‘Coming from an area which isn’t diverse meant exposure to discrimination’

22-year-old Sam said he felt comfortable in himself when studying at Durham University. He thinks this is helped by the fact he was in an environment where it was full of young students who are trying to work out who they are and what they want out of life. “I had a platform to be more open and chose the impression I set of myself,” Sam said.

He described the place he comes from as “quite closed and not really diverse” which meant “exposure to a lot of discrimination and microagressions”. Sam says he thinks the lack of diversity in his hometown makes it really hard to come out to others. Similarly to Ryan, Sam saw university as a clean slate where he could seek out that diversity he lacked at home and present himself truthfully as a gay male instead of “masking to fit in with what my own area perceived as how a young guy should act.”

‘My internalised homophobia was destroying me’

One of my biggest regrets is not exploring my sexuality earlier on in my university experience. I felt like I didn’t exist in my body for the first 21 years of my life and it makes me sad now looking back at the person I was and how my internalised homophobia really did destroy a big portion of my life. Then one random night in my final year, I told my best mate I was a lesbian and life got easier from there. Don’t get me wrong, my feelings didn’t instantly go away but expressing my identity out loud made me feel proud of myself for the first time. Now looking back at that person one year later, I can see I was in a really dark place but talking to people helped shed light on the amazing experiences I had to come.

‘Coming out at university was the start of my own self acceptance’

Sam* says coming out at university was the beginning of their self acceptance of their sexuality. They said it was because they didn’t have the constant fear of their family finding out as their university was out of their hometown. “University became my safe space to be authentically me,” Sam* said.

Being at university also presented Sam* with so many opportunities to meet other LGBTQ+ people through the LGBTQ+ society. “Being surrounded by people who you can relate to and held no judgements towards you was something I’d never had before,” Sam* told The Tab. They also think being at uni grants people with an opportunity to be themselves, something Sam* wishes they had sooner in life.

The Tab’s LGBTQ+ history month reporting series is putting a focus on highlighting LGBTQ+ issues and celebrating queer voices across UK campuses.
If you or someone you know has been affected by this story you can contact Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ helpline, on 0300 330 0630 or visit their website. You can also find help through young people’s charity The Mix, and Galop, the LGBTQ+ anti-violence charity. 

If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s an incident of homophobia on campus, an experience you’d like to share, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing georgia@thetab.com.

You can find all articles from The Tab’s Pride series here.