LGBT UT students face homelessness

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LGBT UT students face homelessness from familial rejection and employment discrimination because of the lack of antidiscrimination protections the state government offers, according to Ana Ixchel Rosal, director of Student Diversity Initiatives. 

Familial rejection forces LGBT students to drop out of school in some instances, and discrimination in hiring practices inhibits enrolled students from securing competitive jobs, said Chris Dao, a petroleum engineering senior and president of LGBT student organization oSTEM.

Most often, LGBT students and youths find themselves without a home after their parents become aware of their sexual orientation, Rosal said. 

“We have dealt with students who are homeless and/or on the brink of homelessness because, after the student came out to their family — intentionally or unintentionally — the response from the family did not go well,” Rosal said. “It could mean everything from parental disappointment to disapproval, but it can also look like total and complete rejection, including financial support. Then, the students are just out there on their own.”

For college students, the length and consequences of homelessness can vary, said Natalia Ornelas, program director at Austin nongovernmental organization Out Youth, which two UT alumni founded to provide social and health services to LGBT youths in the area. 

“We get many phone calls from students looking for shelters,” Ornelas said. “Maybe a student was living with their parents during college and the situation turned unsafe — they were kicked out and cut off. Maybe a student is living safely in dorms, but the school year is ending and their parents are not accepting of them, so they need to find somewhere for the summer until they can get back into their dorms.”

Being an outstanding employee will not protect an LGBT employee in Texas from discriminatory termination because the state does not extend those protections to them, said Keisha Martinez, clinical services director of Out Youth. 

“For a lot of minorities, there is this thought that ‘I have to work ten times harder in order to be recognized or seen as an equal,’” Martinez said. “But this is not part of the thought process for many LGBT youth because getting an education will not protect them from being discriminated against. If an employer wants to get rid of them, their education would not even matter.”

The conservative nature of the oil and gas industries poses problems during recruitment season for LGBT students studying to be petroleum engineers, Dao said. 

“Petroleum engineering is steeped in tradition,” Dao said. “As a result, there are a lot of cultural practices that are passed down that make oil companies very conservative. Baker Hughes, Halliburton and Schlumberger have   Corporate  Equality   Index ratings at about
15 percent.” 

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation uses the Corporate Equality Index to rate American workplaces on LGBT equality, according to the foundation’s website.

The extensive focus on marriage equality led to the neglect of other pressing LGBT issues, public health junior Tyler Grant said.

“Marriage equality is definitely something that is important, but the queer community as a whole has ignored other urgent issues like LGBT homelessness,” Grant said. “It’s frustrating because we have not given the same amount of effort to those causes, and it shows in our politics, law and society.”