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Brandy L. Smith, The University of Memphis

Editor's Note: The following article is drawn from the presentation 'Colors of the Rainbow,' given by Brandy Smith at the 2006 NACADA Region 3 Conference in Nashville, TN. Before reading this article, the reader may wish to become familiar with Brandy's NACADA Clearinghouse article Working More Effectively in Advising: Understanding Multicultural Dimensions ofGay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Identities.

"Why do I need to be aware of GLBT persons or issues?"  Kinsey, Pomeroy and Martin (1948) in their seminal work noted that up to ten percent of the population may be Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender (GLBT). Thus, probability alone suggests that advisors will work with many GLBT students during their careers. Others may say, "What does it matter if I know a person's sexual orientation?"  True, we may not need to know a student's sexual orientation to be a good advisor, but there are times when issues of sexual orientation arise. This can occur when advisors seek to connect with students in a holistic way i.e., when they seek to know more about students than their course schedules.

A holistic advisor may ask a female transfer student the basic question, "What brings you to X University?"  This wonderfully open question has a multitude of answers. If the student says that she transferred because of a dating relationship, the advisor may follow up by asking how long the student and her boyfriend have been together. In this case, the advisor has made an assumption about the student's sexual orientation. While an advisor may find it helpful to know more about the dating relationship, it is recommended that he/she inquire in a way that does not infer heterosexuality. Simply asking, 'How long have you two been together?' can garner the same information, while allowing for the possibility that the student may not be heterosexual.

Hetherington (1991) noted that assumptions exist regarding appropriate and inappropriate fields for GLBT people. These thoughts are based on assumptions and stereotypes that must be challenged. Because we are exposed to socialization beliefs and stereotypes, some advisors and students may explore only majors related to sexual orientation stereotypes. Advisors should seek to discover students' reasons for choosing their majors.

An advisor may work with a male student who indicates that he is gay. This advisor may suggest theatre as a major because the arts have traditionally been seen as a 'good fit' for gay people. In this instance, the advisor needs to broaden his or her perception of student career possibilities instead of limiting the majors to stereotypical fields. Yes, certain fields have historically been more open and affirming to GLBT people, but that does not mean that those are the only fields in which GLBT people can succeed. This issue may arise if the student expresses interest in teaching, the military, criminal justice, or the business world.

Believing that GLBT people can only enter certain fields limits the students' possibilities and restricts the contributions they can make. GLBT people are employed in a variety of occupations. Advisors who choose not to discuss certain careers because of the student's sexual orientation should challenge their beliefs. It is true that some fields may be more restrictive regarding how open a person can be about his/her sexual orientation (e.g., teaching elementary school or the military), but an honest discussion of the issues is very different than refraining from discussing a career option because the person is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.

GLBT individuals often 'come out' during their college years. The 'coming out' process may include student discomfort with sexual orientation and may lead students to choose careers that are traditionally seen as congruent with gender stereotypes. In these cases, male students may choose a stereotypically masculine major, e.g., sports management, while female students may select a stereotypically feminine major, e.g., nursing. Exploration of the reason for the choice of major is important. The question 'What makes you choose that major?' can lead to a productive discussion about the reasons for the choice and an indication regarding how satisfied students may be with a choice made because of gender stereotypes. Some persons may be satisfied with choosing a career path based upon gender stereotypes, but others may realize that alternative reasons for choosing a major may be more important.

Much of what has been suggested here involves challenging stereotypes and assumptions. This can be hard, especially if students and advisors are surrounded by inaccurate information. Advisors can increase their understanding of GLBT persons and the issues they face in the following ways:

  • read affirming books that accurately portray GLBT people
  • talk in a respectful way with people who are GLBT to learn about their experiences and struggles
  • attend presentations that discuss GLBT persons' experiences or perspectives in an affirming way
  • visit the Human Rights Campaign website at www.hrc.org
  • connect with individuals who are GLBT to learn more about them and how their sexual identities are integrated into their personalities rather than isolated from who they are.

Brandy L. Smith
The University of Memphis
brandysmith9@yahoo.com

Brandy Smith is a counseling psychology doctoral student in the Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Research program at The University of Memphis.

References

Hetherington, C. (1991). Life planning and career counseling with gay and lesbian students. In N. J. Evans & V.

A. Wall (Eds.), Beyond tolerance: Gays, lesbians and bisexuals on campus (pp. 131-146). Alexandria, VA: American College Personnel Association.

Kinsey, A., Pomeroy, W. & Martin, C. (1948), Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders.

Cite this article using APA style as: Smith, B. (2006, September). Gay, lesbian, bisexual,and transgender (GLBT) issues in advising situations . Academic Advising Today, 29(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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