How the pandemic has impacted LGBTQ+ students who had to move back home

‘It felt like somebody just popped open my roof, picked me out and threw me into the middle of an ocean that I couldn’t swim in’

LGBTQ+ students have felt the deep and long-lasting disruption of the pandemic more than most. Unable to be themselves, feeling like they have to hide huge parts of their lives and ultimately feeling like they are living a lie.

The Tab investigated how some LGBTQ+ students have adjusted from being out and proud at university to hiding a fundamental part of their identity at home. For many, this has had a huge toll on their mental health and confidence in their identity.

Students from UCL, Lancaster, Derby, Canterbury Christchurch and City University opened up about how they have navigated this tough situation and advice they have for others.

“University presented me with an opportunity away from home to completely reinvent myself” Tara*, a City student told us. As a bisexual woman, Tara spoke about her experience returning home: “As a practising Muslim, I am not out to my family nor do I think I ever will be. The stigmas surrounding sexuality within South Asian culture as well as its forbidden nature in Islam make me too scared to ever say anything.”

As she is not able to come out, Tara told us how this has impacted her mentally: “To be at home in the pandemic for a prolonged period of time, or just longer than anticipated was hard to adjust to. I think not being out at home means I am scared and reluctant to boldly or proudly say ‘hey, I’m bisexual’, so I have not embedded myself into the LGBTQ+ community.”

Despite the circumstances, Tara was able to think positively about her identity and the future: “I am fortunate enough to have friends to rely on for support and to confide in. One thing I am learning is to not suppress the feelings I have and not to seek validation from anyone but myself.”

Tara is not alone in living a jarringly different life at home to that at university. Beth*, who is studying at Canterbury Christ Church, told The Tab: “I have always been out at university, first to just a few people during my first year, and then as I found a community of alike people it became easier to come out to more over time. I am not out to my family or local community.”

Beth, who identifies as queer, has lived at home for a large part of the past year and told us how that has affected her internally: “I feel a lot free at university, like I can say what I want and be who I want without having to filter it. There’s definitely a chunk of me that has to be suppressed when I’m at home, and with being stuck at home it has become very difficult to keep it suppressed and feel at all comfortable while doing it.” For Beth, like many others, it has been her queer friends that have been a support network during this time: “Keeping in touch with people who do know who you are and support that feels important right now; even if it’s just online or through text.”

There are also a number of LGBTQ+ students who are out to their family, which has caused a difficult home environment.

City student Akshay has come out as gay to some of his family. He told The Tab: “[It’s] quite nerve-wracking, I never really bring my sexuality into the house, it’s something I keep quite private to myself, and to my close friendship circles. Moving from a big city like London to somewhere smaller like Wolverhampton, I’m conscious the exposure to queer culture is limited. Therefore, I do have to suppress it on occasions.”

Jeet*, who studies at UCL, has also been through a similar experience. They told The Tab: “My mum and siblings know I’m a lesbian but my mum doesn’t know I’m non-binary. My mum isn’t really accepting so I’ve avoided coming out to anybody else in my family aside from close cousins, and we don’t really touch on the topic when I’m at home so it’s almost like I never came out.” The sudden nature of the pandemic meant Jeet didn’t have time to prepare going back home: “A lot of other queer and trans people I knew had gone home to similar situations and sort of fell off the radar, so it felt like I didn’t have anybody I could reach out to.”

Despite the circumstances, many of these students have found support and provided advice to other students who might be feeling trapped.

UCL student Advaita told The Tab: “This is the longest time I’ve spent at home since I was at school which is when I wasn’t out, but have now spent two and a half years at uni living my life as an openly queer person, so it’s been hard to come back for so long and have to close that off again.”

She has found ways to stay in touch with her identity and feel solace: “I have certain accounts that most people in my community don’t have access to, so I feel safe to tweet about my identity and find people who resonate with me there. Setting those boundaries for myself to make sure my identity isn’t eroded while I’m home has been really crucial. I’ve also focused a lot of energy on reading queer literature or watching TV shows/films with queer representation, because I find it comforting –  it’s something I get to do alone that I can connect with.”

Lucy at Lancaster University also had wisdom to impart: “Get a group of people who care about you and love you regardless of your sexuality as soon as possible. When it gets tough, they will be your first source of support and assistance. Get help too – counselling or other forms of it to cope with being stuck in a pandemic and isolated so much.” 

Gray found support from their lecturers at university. The Derby University student told The Tab about their experience coming home: “It has had a massive impact on my mental health. I hardly socialise and I have to try to fit this person my parents want me to be. My lecturers have been a great help. They have provided support links and have tried to make me feel seen with my name and pronouns.”

As the pandemic persists, it is more important than ever to check on friends in vulnerable situations and for universities to provide support and resources for students who are isolated from their chosen family. As Lucy said: “You are loved and wanted. You deserve to be here and happy.”

*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity

If you are struggling please don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Linked below are some organisations that can offer help and support:

• LGBT Foundation

• Switchboard

• Mindline Trans+

• NHS Mental Health Helplines 

You matter.