LGBT students discuss their experiences being

Camila Adames

As she sits in a crowded lounge area, sipping a cup of coffee, Michelle Picotte looks very comfortable and at ease. Few would guess by looking at the Villanova senior that she belongs to one of the smallest populations on campus.

Long gone are the days when Picotte felt she needed to justify her identity as a lesbian, which she first came to terms with during her freshman year.

 “It was a piece of who I was that I felt I needed to clarify with everyone,” she said. “As I’ve become more mature I’m realizing that’s not really necessary. It’s that whole idea that if straight people don’t have to declare that they’re straight, why should gay people have to declare they are gay to everyone?”

Picotte has found support on campus among her friends and service break trip groups. For sophomore Sally Smith, who identifies as gay, the Sophomore Service Learning Community has been a source of strength throughout her “coming out” experience.

“People will ask me questions and talk to me about girls,” Smith said, with a smile on her face. “That’s really nice. Especially on this floor, people are not weird about hugging me. I had heard that was an issue for some people.”

Her time at Villanova, and that of other students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, has not always been easy. 

“I got two homophobic comments this week,” Smith said. “It really bothered me because one of them was with people I’m friends with, so it was tough. It made me think of what the future will be like, always having this discrimination thrown around.”

For Picotte, rejection first came in the form of a friend during her freshman year.

“I finally told her I had a girlfriend, and she actually paused and said she had to think about it for a few of days and think about how it would affect our friendship, which was pretty shocking to me,” she said.

Incidents like these were not reserved to her peers. That year she also had a negative encounter with a faculty member.

“She was anti-gay, outspokenly so,” Picotte said. “When we discussed the sacrament of matrimony in class, one student asked her about gay marriage, and she declared that gay marriage is a sin. She went on to tell the class that gay people should choose to be celibate in order to abstain from their sinful desires.”

Picotte believes professors and staff should receive training on how to handle these issues in order to avoid incidents that can be damaging to students. 

“I had never experienced any of that weirdness or homophobia because I’d never realized I was gay before then,” she said. “Me coming to terms with my own identity was hard enough on its own without having some negative feedback, even from professors.”

Smith and Picotte classify these incidents as isolated in an otherwise kind community that is more accepting than they expected.

Junior Kevin Madden believes his unique approach to these situations might be the reason behind his lack of negative experiences on campus.

“If I gauge someone is not going to be open or receptive to it, I don’t bother to have a one-on-one interaction with them,” Madden said. “I am not trying to foster relationships with people like that. It’s a tough game to play sometimes. You have to consider, ‘Is this person going to have some kind of hostility towards me?’” 

Madden was aware of Villanova’s reputation as “monochromatic” and its nickname “Vanilla-nova” before enrolling, but did not allow that to be a deterrent. He ultimately found himself pleasantly surprised by the reception to his sexual orientation. 

One of the challenges these students face is the small number of students who identify as LGBTQ and are open about it. Picotte recalls being known as “the gay girl in St. Monica” freshman year. Madden says he does not care about being known as “the gay guy” as long as it is not used maliciously.

He believes the biggest change needed on campus is to foster meaningful conversations among students in order to dispel false stereotypes surrounding the LGBTQ community.

 “I get a lot of people who don’t agree with me that I am gay, which is really bizarre because that’s how I identify,” Picotte said. “I get a lot of guys who think that just because I haven’t dated a girl in a while it must mean I’m not gay anymore, or just because I dress a certain way and am still fairly feminine, I must not really be gay. I must be bi or something else.”

For Picotte, a visit from her girlfriend during freshman year was the ultimate test of her classmates’ acceptance.

“It was scandalous,” she said. “It was really exciting. I felt kind of like a freak show when she visited. We would walk around holding hands, not even doing anything PDA or aggressive, just holding hands, and people would stare at us.”

Picotte has come a long way since then, and she has learned to accept and live with all the attention and the labels. 

“I don’t mind standing out a little bit,” she says, leaning back in her chair, sipping her coffee and blending in with the rest of the students milling around the crowded lounge.