Welcoming Gay Culture: Preparing International Educators for a New Clientele

Gay Culture

Conceptualizing the gay subculture as a culture has a number of advantages for the international educator. In addition to broadening the definition of culture away from traditional racial and ethnic ones, it allows homosexual behavior to be approached, not as a value laden moral or religious issue that may cause conflicts or tension, but as a separate culture due (despite the personal moral and religious position of the international educator) respect as a community of knowledge, attitudes and habitual behavioral patterns with its own argot, folklore, and heritage.

What is particularly different about sexuality as culture is the degree to which it is submerged within other cultures that also tend to affect it. Because homosexual behavior is still stigmatized and often criminalized and because there is usually no way of identifying people who have sex with members of their own gender apart from self-disclosure or their identification with the gay subculture, this is essentially a hidden sector of the broader community. Thus, this is a culture in which membership may be transient or episodic and in which there is no tradition to be developed by parental or familial transmission.

Study, travel or work abroad is a whole person experience. The parts of our identity that make us unique inevitably become part of the experience abroad. Time spent in other cultures often facilitates personal reflection and teaches people as much about themselves as it does about other people. Quite possibly, one’s struggle with self-acceptance as a homosexual is much the same if not more intense while immersed in another culture. For U.S. students going to other countries it may be difficult to convey the subtle cues that are characteristic of the U.S. gay culture. Which same sex behaviors are and are not accepted vary among cultures and often leads to much ambiguity and frustration. International student behavior in the United States may also be misinterpreted and could lead to hostile reactions. Approaching gay culture could result in culture shock for these students just as it might when approaching any other culture.

Altman, D. 1982. The Homosexualization of America. Boston: Beacon.

Blumenfeld, W., & Raymond, D. 1988. Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life. New York: Philosophical Library.

Browning, Frank. 1994. The Culture of Desire: Paradox and Perversity in Gay Lives Today. New York: First Vintage Books.

Majors, Randall E. 1991. “America’s Emerging Gay Culture.” Intercultural Communication. Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter, Eds. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Ross, Michael, W., María Eugenia Fernández-Esquer & annette Seibt. 1996. “Understanding Across the Sexual Orientation Gap: Sexuality as Culture.” Handbook of Intercultural Training. 2nd Edition. Dan Landis and Rabi S. Bhagat, Eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Definitions for the International Educator

International educators can work with gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals traveling abroad who want to make contacts in foreign gay communities and with gay, lesbian, and bisexual international students who are looking for a local support network in the United States. To be most effective, the international educator should be aware of how the following concepts can be barriers to intercultural understanding:

HETEROSEXISM refers to seeing and interpreting things in the gay subculture by using the values and perceptions of the heterosexual community. This prejudice assumes that all people are or should be heterosexual, and therefore excludes the needs, concerns and life experiences of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. It is equivalent to ethnocentrism.

HOMOPHOBIA refers to the fear and hatred of those who love and sexually desire others of the same sex. Homophobia, which has its roots in sexism, includes prejudice, discrimination, harassment and acts of violence brought on by fear and hatred. There are four interrelated types of homophobia:

  • Personal homophobia is prejudice based on a personal belief that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are sinful, immoral, sick or inferior to heterosexuals.
  • Interpersonal homophobia is individual behavior based on personal homophobia. This hatred or dislike may be expressed by name-calling, telling jokes, verbal and physical harassment.
  • Institutional homophobia refers to the many ways in which government, businesses and churches discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Cultural homophobia refers to social standards which dictate that being heterosexual is better or more moral that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

DESENSITIZATION – There are fears, myths, and preconceptions about the gay subculture. By getting to know gay, lesbian and bisexual people as individuals, much of the prejudice or preconceptions are desensitized. The individual is able to put aside preconceived ideas and is open to see the members of the subculture as individuals and as people beyond their subcultural label.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Speakers Bureau
P.O. Box 2232, Boston, MA 02107, Tel. 617/ 354-0133

Bisexual Resource Center
P.O. Box 639, Cambridge MA 02140, Tel. 617/ 338-9595

The Campaign to End Homophobia
P.O. Box 438316, Chicago, IL 60643-8316, Tel. 617/ 868-8280

Human Rights Campaign
1101 14th Street NW, Washington DC 20005, Tel. 202/628-41


Homosexual Identity Development

The college or university years are years of extreme change. Students are confronted with a variety of issues. The student’s maturity and the experiences s/he has had will determine how each issue is dealt with. As a result, the student who may be struggling with his/her sexual identity may have a more difficult task as these issues appear. For example, many activities during the undergraduate years encourage students to develop self-esteem and a distinct identity. This may also be the first time for relative freedom away from parents and other pressures to conform. For the gay, lesbian or bisexual student, answering the question “Who am I?” can be especially difficult. In result, the student may question his/her own self-worth and place in society and the community.

Identity development models can help familiarize international educators with the developmental tasks being pursued by participants and provide them with tools for analysis of the participants. They can inform the approach to designing orientation training programs that address the specific concerns students at a particular stage face.

Cass, V.C. 1979. Homosexual Identity Formation: A Theoretical Model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4, 219-235.

Troiden, R.R. 1988. Homosexual Identity Development. Journal of Adolescent Health Care, 9(2), 105-113.

Coleman, E. 1982. Developmental Stages of the Coming Out Process. Journal of Homosexuality, 7, 31-43.

Gramick, J. 1984. Developing a Lesbian Identity. T. Darty & S. Potter, Eds. Women-identified Women. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield, 31-44.

Ponse, B. 1980. Lesbians and their Worlds. J. Marmor, Ed. Homosexual Behavior: A Modern Reappraisal. New York: Basic Books, 157-175.

Zinik, G. 1985. Identity Conflict or Adaptive Flexibility? Bisexuality Reconsidered. F. Klien & T. J. Wolf, Eds. Bisexualities: Theory and Research. New York: Haworth, 7-19.

The undergraduate years have a significant impact on the lives of young adults who are beginning to develop their identities. The stress that naturally accompanies college or university life is compounded for those students struggling with their sexual orientation. It is crucial that information gained through these various identity development theories be utilized to establish environments in which students who are gay, lesbian or bisexual can learn and grow.



Students often come to higher education from relatively monocultural home and school environments that leave them unprepared for multicultural and international norms and experiences.

They may come from environments in which racial and ethnic conflict, sexual harassment, and homophobia are prevalent and unchallenged. Many educational institutions in the U.S. currently have an unfriendly environment for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students. It is crucial that international educators expand the focus on enrichment and adjustment efforts to issues of inclusion and exclusion. Some suggestions are as follows:

  1. The establishment of a nondisrimination clause to protect the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual students. An institutional commitment to protect these students (as we protect other minorities) is vital for affirming the presence of GLB people on our campuses. It should be stated in literature sent to prospective students.
  2. Fostering a supportive residence hall environment. International educators can work with residence life staff in their programming as well as the staff recruitment program that would seek to attract applicants who understand the concerns faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual students living in a residence hall environment. Some of the specific issues are “coming out” in a rigid heterosexist residence hall, lack of privacy, homophobic roommates, lack of inclusive activities, and dealing with harassment.
  3. Active role with gay, lesbian and bisexual student organizations. It is crucial that the international educator be visibly supportive of campus gay, lesbian, bisexual student organizations. Such organizations have many roles from social, political and support to service, education and development. Of the services offered could be speakers’ bureaus, discussion groups, workshops, resource libraries, referral services, hot lines, disease testing, peer counseling, and job boards. Furthermore, programs may include film series, lectures, social events, awareness weeks, homophobia workshops, AIDS awareness education, newsletters, trips, conferences, and alumni groups. It is of vital interest to the international educator to be aware of what is happening with these groups to make informed referrals.
  4. Counseling gay, lesbian and bisexual students. The international educator will need to be prepared to counsel GLB students who are preparing to go abroad and who fear among other things, ostracization and alienation in the host culture. For many gay, lesbian, bisexual international students, a return to their native country may mean returning to a place where they can be disowned, imprisoned, or even killed for their sexual behavior. The international educator may be the only person with whom the student may share these feelings of returning to the home country. The international education office staff will need to be familiar with gay and lesbian youth groups, gay community centers, telephone hotlines, and local organizations.
  5. Life planning and career counseling with gay, lesbian and bisexual students. Quite often the international educator will counsel students on issues of life planning and career counseling. The international educator will need to be familiar with identity development models, negative stereotypes, AIDS, minority group status, employment discrimination, transition from school to work, as well as job search information.
  6. Increased gay, lesbian and bisexual library resources. People should have the chance to learn as much as possible and read literature that speaks to the gay and lesbian experience. Students need to have publications available that address their sexuality and resulting issues. Library exhibits can create awareness of contributions of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
  7. Supportive Health Services. Supportive health personnel are crucial to the international student who may be sexually active and need understandable guidance. The use and importance of condoms, for example, will need to be addressed. The international educator can work with health services in many ways from providing translated documents to suggesting safe-sex information for the international student. Homosexuality should be included in every discussion of sexuality, from dating to relationships to parenting concerns.
  8. Creating a GLB friendly environment in the International Education Office. The international education office should have available resources for questioning students, such as travel guides, safe-sex information, and brochures designed for GLB students listing campus and community based resources. This is also a good place to display a poster acknowledging that gay and lesbian people exist and that they are okay. It may also be useful to keep personal accounts by people who have studied abroad. These resources can help students to connect with the gay community. A 1987 assessment tool developed by Vernon Wall and Jamie Washington can enable all student affairs professionals to assess the current climate on campus for gay, lesbian and bisexual students and staff (see page 12).
  9. Enhancing staff development. All schools have some diversity in their staff and student populations. Differences may include age, gender, socioeconomic, status, mental ability, physical ability, sexual orientation, religion, language, national origin, and ethnicity. All staff and students need to be aware of this diversity and have knowledge and understanding about that diversity. The international educator will want to combine efforts with campus multiculturalists to encourage staff to become aware of and sensitive to these issues. International educators should present a positive role model for colleagues in dealing with diverse populations. If their is a professional development committee, the international educator may want to address international and multicultural issues.



International educators are involved in curriculum development through the design and implementation of orientation training programs for newly arrived international students, students going abroad, and for returning study abroad participants.

As trainers, international educators will need to become more knowledgeable, sensitive and comfortable about including gay, lesbian and bisexual perspectives in predeparture orientations. Since sexual identity and definitions are culturally based, students need to be aware of how this will affect their relationships with host nationals, cultural adjustment and the overall study abroad experience. Five categories that should be covered in orientation sessions or in written materials are as follows:

  1. Personal Development and Self Awareness. Many transformations occur in students prompted by the fact they are no longer restricted by their home culture. Affecting the “coming out” process can be one of these transformations.
  2. In-country Resources and Culture Specific Information. It is important that students are aware that cultures vary in terms of what is considered appropriate behavior when interacting with someone from another culture. Cultures also vary in terms of how sexual identities are defined and understood. Country-specific information on meeting places, organizations, laws, norms/styles of behavior and general attitudes will be helpful. Additionally, materials and reading lists provided should include gay, lesbian, bisexual authors and commentary.
  3. Program Specific Information. Students need to be aware that, while the study abroad office in the U.S. may be inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual perspectives, the in-country staff and faculty may represent another office and culture that will present a different climate. Students may have to look outside the program for support.
  4. Relationships. The international educator can recommend that students learn as much as possible before they leave the U.S. about the culture-specific norm of friendship and dating for relationships between people of any sexual orientation.
  5. Safety. It is very important for students to realize how behavioral signals that mean one thing in the U.S. may mean something completely different in the foreign culture. The consequences can be serious. The legal system of the country may not offer protection for the victim when issues of sexual orientation are involved.

As we would not send a student to study in another country without some cross-cultural orientation, we should not throw international students into a socially diverse and complex campus without providing the necessary guidance, education and support. With over 450,000 international students coming to the United States each year, it has become standard for international educators to help these students adjust to their new environment and to let them know of resources that may be of use to them. Common goals of orientation training are to help participants be more aware of the host family expectations and become sensitive to their own behavior within that context, become aware of stages in cultural entry and adjustment, understand the notion of a multicultural world, and enjoy their experience to the fullest.

To address issues of gay, lesbian, bisexuality is not to alter the agenda, but to be more inclusive to the real needs of the participants. For example, a simple introduction of the various campus organizations will go one step further to informing the participants of what is available. Better still would be to provide contact information and literature or have a representative present. This orientation may be the first impression for GLB students to test the safety of the environment on campus.

Often programs place students in home-stay situations so that they may be more immersed in the culture. It is important that all students are aware of the implications of being identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual in the host culture and how “coming out” might affect the host family relations.

On-campus reentry orientations typically include such sessions as a program evaluation, post-return counseling, and career counseling. The program must also strive to reintegrate the participants into degree studies and campus life. Making a break from unsupportive family or friends can mean that reentry adjustment for the GLB participant is particularly difficult as the student tries to reintegrate with these relationships upon return. The new sense of freedom found during a study abroad program may force the student to find a more supportive community upon return. This can be both an exciting and lonely process.

For students who might begin to “come out” while studying abroad, it is particularly important that they are personally aware about the ways they may have changed before coming home. The implications of “coming out” when back home will need to be thought out. Often the family and friends may blame the study abroad experience for the changes in the student, rather than acknowledge a lifelong identity. The reentry program should include, therefore, a discussion prompting these students to think about these changes when considering the reentry process. Materials provided to students before they return or during in-country meetings can be useful.



The international educator is often the campus official involved in community outreach. It is increasingly more common for international educators to arrange programs within the community that link the campus international population. The aim of campus-community programs is twofold. One is to use the resources of the community to facilitate the academic progress and personal development of international students and scholars. The second is to strengthen the international dimension of the community.

Students are involved in activities such as workshops, speakers’ bureaus, volunteer service projects, global weeks, and more. This contact outside the classroom is an excellent way for international students to gain exposure to U.S. American culture. The international educator plays a crucial role in this link to the community. For those gay, lesbian, bisexual students seeking outside support, the international educator should be familiar with the following:

  1. Utilization of support services and networks on and off campus. Almost every city now in the United States has some association for the gay, lesbian, bisexual community. Larger cities, however, may have such services as bars, clubs, cafés, coffee shops, restaurants, shows, hotels, guesthouses, bookshops, video shops, leather shops, cinemas, saunas, sports clubs, religious groups, health services, radio and television stations, galleries, publications, and even designated “cruising” areas.
  2. Gay homestays. International educators frequently arrange homestays for international students. Gay or lesbian couples could also provide homestays and a very different look into U.S. American culture.
  3. Culture specific attitudes/ laws. It is important for the international educator to be familiar with regional, state, and national laws regarding sexuality as well as local attitudes. With the modern gay liberation movement in full swing, it is important for the international educator to be informed politically.

A Note for the International Educator

International educators need to be informed and sensitive to the needs of GLB students involved in international educational exchange. To be effective, the international educator will need to gather as much information as possible and increase his/her knowledge about the topic of homosexuality. The international educator will need to examine his/her own personal values and beliefs to know where s/he stands on specific issues and their willingness to be open. S/he will need to remember that each gay, lesbian, bisexual student is an individual, each with different experiences and each at his/her own level of development. It is through this understanding and application of ideas that the international educator can begin to aid in the establishment of a college and university environment that is inclusive and accepting of diverse sexual orientations.



These pages are devoted to providing resources to assist in addressing various issues related to sexual orientation. Whether one’s interest is in providing general information to students, staff and faculty or in designing programs around sexual orientation issues, these pages contain resources that will prove helpful.

Clark, D. 1987. The New Loving Someone Gay. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.

Kusm R. Ed. 1990. Keys to Caring: Assisting Your Gay and Lesbian Clients. Boston: Alyson.

McNeill, J. 1988. The Church and the Homosexual. Boston: Beacon.

Mueller, A. 1987. Parent’s Matter: Parents’ Relationship with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons. Tallahassee, FL: Naiad.

The following items are recommended for use in programming around the issues of gay, lesbian, and bisexual awareness.

Alternatives: A Game of Understanding, P.O. Box 1050, Amherst, MA 01004-1050, Tel. 413/ 546-4523.

Opening Doors to Understanding and Acceptance: A Guide to Facilitating Workshops on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues, Human Advantage, 6 University Drive, Suite 125, Amherst MA 01002, Tel. 413/ 584-0812

Demystifying Homosexuality: A Teaching Guide About Lesbians and Gay Men, Human Rights Foundation, Inc. New York: Irvington.

Guide to Leading Introductory Workshops in Homophobia, The Campaign to End Homophobia, P.O. Box 819, Cambridge, MA 02139, Tel. 617/ 868-8280

Additional information on the availability of these films can be obtained from the Lambda Rising Bookstore, 1625 Connecticut Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20009, Tel. 202/ 462-6969.

  • As Is
  • Before Stonewall
  • Life and Times of Harvey Milk
  • Pink Triangles
  • Stick, Stones, and Stereotypes
  • Teenagers and Homosexuality
  • We Bring a Quilt
  • What if I’m Gay?
  • It’s Elementary
  • Billy Budd
  • Stonewall 25
  • Queer Son

Besner, Hilda F. & Charlotte I. Spungin. 1995. Gay and Lesbian Students: Understanding Their Needs. Bristol, PA: Taylor and Francis Publishing.

Bowster, Benjamin P., Gale S. Auletta & Terry Jones. 1993. Confronting Diversity Issues on Campus. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Coming Out: An Anthology of International Gay and Lesbian Writings. NY: Pantheon Books, 1992.

Evans, Nancy J. & Vernon A. Wall. 1991. Beyond Tolerance: Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals on Campus. Alexandria, VA: American College Personnel Association.

Miller, Neil. 1992. Out in the World: Gay and Lesbian Life From Buenos Aires to Bangkok. New York: Random House.

Rhoads, Robert A. 1994. Coming Out in College: The Struggle for a Queer Identity. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Sherrill, J. M. 1994. The Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Student’s Guide to Colleges, Universities and Graduate Schools. NY: New York University Press.

The Third Pink Book: A Global View of Lesbian and Gay Liberation and Oppression. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1993.

Treadway, L., & Yakum J. 1992. Creating a Safer School Environment for Lesbian and Gay Students. Journal of School Health, 62, 7, 352.


  • The Advocate, 815/ 734-1157 (National GLB Newsmagazine)
  • Deneuve, 415/ 863-6538 (Lesbian Community)
  • Journal of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Identity, 212/ 620-8000
  • Journal of Homosexuality, 607/ 722-5857
  • LAMBDA Rising Book Report, 202/ 462-7924
  • Lesbian & Gay Teacher’s Association Newsletter, 718/ 258-4102
  • Our World, 904/ 441-5367 (GLB Travel Magazine)
  • Out, 212/ 334-9119 (National GLB Newsmagazine)
  • Working it Out, 212/ 769-2384 (GLB Issues in the Workplace)

Travel guides provide listings of numerous places of interest throughout the nation and throughout the world for lesbians and gays. The following travel guides are available at most gay and lesbian bookstores. They can be ordered through Malibu Sales, PO Box 4371, Los Angeles, CA 90078-4371, Tel. 800/ 333-5433.

  • Bob Damron’s Address Book
  • Gaia’s Guide (Lesbian Tour Guide)
  • Places of Interest to Women
  • Spartacus International Gay Guide
  • Inn Places
  • Gayellow Pages: United States and Canada
  • Our World
  • Odysseus Gay Travel International
  • Ferrari’s Worldwide Gay Guide

American College Personnel Association – Standing Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Awareness
5999 Stevenson Avenue Alexandria, VA 22304

Association of College and University Housing Offices – Committee for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns
Jones Tower, Suite 140
101 Curl Drive, Columbus, OH 43210-1195

Association for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues in Counseling
Box 216, Jenkintown, PA 19046

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network (GLSTN)
122 West 26th Street, Suite 1100 New York, NY 10001
Tel. 212/727-0254

Homosexual Information Center
115 Monroe Street
Bossier City, LA 71111-4539
Tel. 318/742-4709

International Gay Information Center
PO Box 2, Village Station
New York, NY 10014

International Foundation for Gender Education
P.O. Box 367
Wayland, MA 01778
Tel. 617/894-8340

NAFSA: Association of International Educators – LesBiGay Special Interest Group
1875 Connecticut Ave., NW
Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20009

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators – Network for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Concerns
1700 18th Street, NW, Suite 301 Washington, DC 20009
Tel. 202/265-7500

National Institute for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns in Education, Inc.
Box 249, Malden, MA 02148
Tel. 617/321-9901

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
1101 14th Street, Suite 1030
Washington DC 20005
Tel. 202/638-4200

SIETAR International, The International Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research – Sexual Orientation Special Interest Group
808 17th Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006-3953
Tel. 202/466-7883

by: Anthony C. Ogden