By Brandon Vu
Throughout high school, there weren’t a lot of new people showing up, and if there were, they usually weren’t anyone worth befriending. I was always told by friends that college would be a different world: tons of new and different people to meet. The thought of starting over was so enticing, but I also didn’t want to leave behind what I had already built for years: countless relationships and memories. But there was a wrench in the plan: I’m gay. So if you imagine the chance that someone would meet my friend criteria, then the chance that I meet that person’s friend criteria, and then the chance that that person is gay, you arrive at a pretty small proportion of the student body, which amounted to being no one in my case. As a result, my time in high school was spent figuring out what type of persona I should put on and when: I never really felt like myself. However, everything changed when my Georgia Tech journey began.
The start of college for me was during FASET, the freshmen orientation program. It was a refreshing reset from the same 100 people I saw in high school every day. I met so many new people by being funneled place to place from the small tours around campus to the big speaker gatherings to choosing our very first college classes. At the end of the first day, we were shown to our temporary dorm rooms where I met my first queer person on campus (since he has, in his own words, a “professional reputation” he wants to keep on its “up and up,” I’ve decided to keep him anonymous, so he will be referred to as William Brown from here on out). Although at first my conversations with William were pretty tame, it did not take long for me to open up and find much common ground between us. William believes that “as cliché as it might sound, since we were both gay” and that we had finally “started our adventure into adulthood,” building our first queer, platonic relationship was easy because we “had kept so much of ourselves hidden in high school.” We hadn’t been able to confide our thoughts on things that pertain to being part of LGBT like familial responsibilities with someone who “understood [us] through experience instead of just empathy and the typical put-yourself-in-their-shoes perspective.” Although I didn’t realize it at the time, meeting William was “most definitely a luck of the draw,” and I thank the Georgia Tech gods every time we talk or hang out for the chance to finally have that person who fits my friend criteria, whose friend criteria I fit, and who is experiencing the world through a same lens as I am.
Finding other LGBT kids isn’t exactly easy, because not everyone is sporting an equality sticker on them 24/7. I was lucky to meet William in person, and through him I learned of the magical app called Tinder. It is first and foremost a dating app; however, it also puts all the other gay students front and center of you right on your phone. This lets you connect with other gay students directly. In fact, I found my third roommate, Camilo, through this. However, being a sheeple of the current generation isn’t the only way to find gay friends. There are plenty of organizations, such as GT Pride, where many queer people gather. In fact, GT Pride’s mission statement is to “provide a supportive and educational environment… and to provide a positive LGBTQIA awareness and presence at Tech.” To do this, they have many activities, which include the Atlanta Gay Pride Parade during National Coming Out Week. In fact, my first Gay Pride Parade (despite the fact that I’ve been living in the big ATL for my entire life) was with William in my first year of college. Walking through the streets with other gay guys, lesbian gals, trans men, trans women, and drag queens (the most eccentric and lovable people out there!!) gave me that, for a lack of better words, fuzzy feeling inside of togetherness. In ANOTHER fact, we saw two politicians, both conservative and liberal, walking together that year. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but when I was told by William who those people were, he said that was such a “tear-inducing” experience that “showed great progress” in our local politics, and I wholeheartedly agree. I didn’t think I would ever actively participate in LGBT rights, but this experience with William and all the new LGBT people I met changed my perspective. No longer do I sit back and reap the benefits of those working hard for the bettering of a whole group. No longer do I have no one to relate with. No longer do I feel so alone. So thank you William. 🙂
However, with good things comes the bad. On September 16, 2017, Scout Schultz was fatally shot by a Georgia Tech police officer. Scout was the president of the Pride Alliance of Georgia Tech, so many LGBT students knew him as a close friend. The news hit national headlines. It was a time of tragedy, devastation, and confusion. Although I didn’t know Scout personally, this issue hit home with me because anyone I knew like William or even I myself could’ve been in Scout’s position. Our student body was torn: how do we trust the people we thought were there to protect us? There was, however, a vigil held two days later, where everyone including Georgia Tech police officers gathered around the Kessler Campanile to mourn for Scout. Although this turned violent, we must keep in mind that the rioters did not represent the general opinion of the entire school. In times of tragedy when we are confused about what is right or wrong, we must remember that we have to depend on each other to get over this mountain. This not only applies to major events but also minor ones such as exams during a Hell Week, so whatever the size of the obstacle, whether a puddle or an entire sea, what we have at Georgia Tech is a community. A unity. One, single identity. And together, we swarm.
The thing is that you could go back in this article and replace being gay with being some other different characteristic or hobby: being an international student, wanting to volunteer, liking robots; this list goes on! Georgia Tech is a very welcoming place with loads of different subcultures for everyone. At a Convocation, the upperclassman speaker Nagela Nukuna told us to “be [our] authentic self” and that this is “not a competition or even a race.”
I took this to heart to mean never to isolate myself and be open to the possibilities in community so that I could create “a healthy support network of family and friends.” There is not one reason why someone should feel alone here. Even as someone who commutes an hour every day, I already feel at home with less than a year of experiences under my sleeve. Moreover, I will always be proud to call Georgia Tech and all of its inhabitants my home.