Academic Advising Resources


Resources helpful for Advising LGBTQA Students

Working More Effectively in Advising: Understanding Multicultural Dimensions of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Identities
Brandy Smith

Advisors want to work effectively with their students. Understanding multicultural issues is essential if advisors are to be effective in their work. Cunningham (2003) addressed the need for global multicultural awareness that encompasses more than race/ethnicity. While race and ethnicity are two important components of multicultural awareness, they are not the only two ways in which a person maintains a multicultural identity. Many other identities relate to multiculturalism; one of those identities is sexual orientation.


The first step toward better understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) persons is the understanding of definitions as discussed in Perez, DeBord, and Bieschke (2000). The first definition that needs to be understood is sexual orientation .

Sexual orientation extends beyond a romantic relationship to include aspects of attraction, desire, and emotional connection. Limiting the definition to one that focuses only on sexual behavior perpetuates the inaccurate notion that a GLBT identity is just about sex. That perspective is harmful and blatantly inaccurate! It is crucial that advisors understand that sexual orientation relates to emotional attraction and is about sharing commitment and a romantic life. It should be noted that individuals are GLB or heterosexual even when they are not in a relationship.


In most ways, GLBT individuals are like heterosexual individuals. Although there are differences, especially in the way each group is treated within society, persons in all of the groups share similar hopes and dreams. Cunningham (2003) noted that there are often more within group differences than differences between groups. Indeed many issues faced by GLBT persons are quite similar to those faced by heterosexuals.


Until we become better informed, our preconceived notions, stereotypes, and prejudices about GLBT persons guide our beliefs. Once we are able to see GLBT individuals as real people and not stereotyped notions, we have a new perspective. Everyone does not share the same beliefs and affirmation for GLBT persons, but accurate and humanizing information can help those who see GLBT persons as “others” work more effectively with GLBT students.


Accurate definitions can provide advisors with the information needed to effectively work with students. These definitions include:

  • Gay refers to both men and women who are attracted to persons of the same sex.
  • Lesbian is the term used for women who are romantically and sexually attracted to other women. Note: contemporary women often use the term gay.
  • Homosexual has been used to identity both men and women who are attracted to persons of the same sex. This phrase evolved from the medical treatment of people attracted to same-sex persons and thus can have a pejorative connotation.
  • Queer is another term used to describe GLBT persons. It previously had a negative connotation. Many still view it negatively, but some GLBT persons are reclaiming it as a way to empower themselves.
  • Bisexual is used to indicate that a person is attracted to both men and women. Some describe bisexuality as an attraction to the qualities a person possesses rather than the gender of the person who possesses the qualities  . Bisexual persons often experience a lack of acceptance in both heterosexual and GL communities because of misconceptions and stereotypes associated with bisexuality.


It is important that advisors are familiar with these termsnot only so we can relate to use of the terms but so we can avoid use of terminology that is derogatory. Understanding the history associated with some words (i.e., homosexual, queer) also gives insight into why certain words are avoided or only used within an explicitly affirming context.


Another group that is often met with little support in any community is transgendered persons. Transgender relates to gender identity rather than sexual orientation; however, it is often included when people discuss GLB issues. This population is sorely lacking in attention and understanding.

  • Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe someone who experiences his/her gender in a way that varies along a continuum from masculine to feminine.
  • Transsexuals are a sub-group within transgender. The term refers to persons whose anatomy does not match the way they feel and who desire sex reassignment surgery or hormones. Note: other groups of transgender persons are discussed by Brown & Rounsley (1996)

Some transgender persons identify as GLB, while others identify as heterosexual.

Examples of when it is important to be prepared to work with transgendered students include phone conversations and in-person advising. An advisor who speaks with a student on the phone notes that the student’s voice and name sound male but information on the computer shows a distinctly female name. In this case the advisor may inquire to ensure that she is speaking with the correct student; the result may be that the student shares that he is transitioning (going through the process to become male which often includes hormones that change the voice). The discussion can be unexpected but, since the advisor is familiar with some of the issues surrounding a transgendered identity, she is more prepared to work effectively with the student. Clothing may also signal that a student is transgendered, which would be noted when the student arrived for his/her advising appointment. This is most noticeable when working with a male student who dresses in feminine clothing, e.g., wears a dress.


Coming out is another term related to sexual orientation; it refers to the disclosing of one’s sexual orientation. This is not a one time event; instead it is a decision made whenever a GLBT person meets someone new. Sometimes GLBT disclosure is considered to be something very personal, but because most people assume heterosexuality, the responsibility for challenging that assumption rests on the GLBT person. Not disclosing is often seen as lying or keeping a secret. Heterosexual individuals are not required to “come out” because their sexual orientation is assumed and visible in everyday conversation.


This visibility informally occurs when a heterosexual female refers to a show she and her husband attended over the weekend. When a lesbian refers to her partner attending the same show, she is attempting to socially relate by sharing about her weekend. She is not sharing about her sexual behavior; she is relaying stories of her life on the same level as her heterosexual peer. Understanding this is one way to challenge stereotypes.


Other terms that need to be defined include homophobia, internalized homophobia, heterosexism and heterosexual privilege .

  • Homophobia is the fear or dislike of gay persons.
  • Internalized homophobia refers to gay persons who internalize homophobia which results in the person feeling shame about being gay.

Homophobia hurts heterosexual persons as well as those who are GLBT because it inhibits people, especially men, from forming close relationships with those of the same sex for fear of being perceived as gay. Advisors encounter this when a male student makes derogatory comments about a dance class for fear that he would be assumed gay if he enrolled in the class. That fear often locks people into strict gender role behaviors and is sometimes used as peer pressure for a heterosexual person to verbally or physically “bash” a GLBT person to “prove” his/her heterosexuality.

Heterosexism relates to making assumptions that someone is heterosexual and acting as if heterosexuality is the only acceptable identity. This can occur when advisors are getting to know students. Often advisors ask students about their outside responsibilities or other-sex dating relationships. Instead, advisors should ask a broad question inquiring if the student is trying to maintain a dating relationship as well as school and other responsibilities/obligations.
•  Heterosexual privilege is an advantage given to heterosexual persons simply because they are heterosexual.

This is similar to privileges White persons receive because of their race.

Examples of heterosexual privilege include:

•being able to display simple affection, e.g., hand-holding, in public without fear of retaliation
•discussing dating relationships without wondering if the conversation will be okay with all participants
•receiving empathy when a relationship ends
•never being afraid of losing a job because of your partner’s gender.

These issues manifest themselves in the advising relationship when GLBT students are hesitant to disclose a same-sex relationship or to disclose their participation in a GLBT-related campus organization because of fear of how the advisor might react.


This information is shared about GLBT persons in an effort to help advisors better understand and truly challenge the misconceptions, myths, and assumptions that exist toward GLBT persons. This article by no means exhausts available information; instead it provides an introduction and advising examples regarding GLBT-related issues. This is a step towards disseminating accurate information and challenging stereotyped misconceptions that abound about GLBT persons.

Brandy Smith

Doctoral Student in the Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Research department

University of Memphis

Brown, M. & Rounsley, C. A. (1996). Understanding transsexualism: For families, friends, coworkers and helping professionals (pp. 5-29, 78-95). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Cunningham, L. (2003). Multicultural awareness. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Website:


Perez, R. M., DeBord, K. A., & Bieschke, K. J. (2000). Handbook of counseling and psychotherapy with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

Annotated bibliography of resources dealing with this issue

Brown, M. & Rounsley, C. A. (1996). Understanding transsexualism: For families, friends, coworkers and helping professionals (pp. 5-29, 78-95).San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

  • Presents a variety of information about transgender issues. Good source for helpingpeople better understand transgender issues.   

Chen-Hayes, S. F. (July 1997). Counseling lesbian, bisexual, and gay persons in couple and family relationships: Overcoming the stereotypes. Family Journal, 5 (3), 236-240.

  • Although this article mentions couple and family issues, the multiple stereotypes addressed are global stereotypes that get perpetuated about GLBT persons. Includes challenges to the stereotypes.
Division 44 (Dec. 2000). Guidelines for psychotherapy with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients.American Psychologist, 55 (12), 1440-1451.
  • Discusses appropriate guidelines for working with LGB persons. Although it presents information as related to working with clients in the field of psychology, the recommendations offered are relevant for persons working with LGB persons in other settings and circumstances.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., & Guido-DiBrito, F. (1998). Gay, lesbian, and bisexual identity development. In N. J. Evans, D. S. Forney, & F. Guido-DiBrito, Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 89-106) . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Incorporated, Publishers.


  • Presents information about different identity development models and issues for GLB persons.

Fox, R. C. (1996). Bisexuality in perspective: A review of theory and research. In B. A. Firestein (Ed.), Bisexuality: The psychology and politics of an invisible minority (pp. 3-50).Thousand Oaks,CA: Sage Publications.

  • Presents a variety of relevant information about bisexuality.

Horowitz, J. L., & Newcomb, M. D. (1999). Bisexuality, not homosexuality: Counseling issues and treatment approaches. Journal of College Counseling, 2, 148-163.


  • Provides information that would help people better understand bisexuality. Even though the title specifically mentions counseling, the content relates to multiple settings and situations.

Leider, S. (March 2000). Sexual minorities on community college campuses. Eric Digest, 3-4.

  • Discussed lack of attention to research of GLB issues on community college campuses and notes some of the issues this population of students face.
McNaught, B. (1988). Dear anita: Late night thoughts of an irish catholic homosexual. In B. McNaught, On being gay (pp. 5-14).New York:St. Martin's Press.


  • Presents a letter that McNaught wrote to a woman affiliated with an event that negatively affected gay rights. Is a powerful piece that challenges some beliefs against GLB persons

Ritter, K. Y. & Terndrup, A. I. (2002). Families of origin and coming-out issues. In K. Y. Ritter & A.I.Terndrup, Handbook of affirmative psychotherapy with lesbians and gay men (pp. 295-311).New York: Guilford Publications.

  • Discusses various coming out issues for GLB persons coming out to their families of origin.

Rivera-Dessuit,I.(March 2001). Why I am a lesbian. Ebony, (pp. 142-144, 149).

  • A woman of color briefly shares her experiences of being in the closet and of coming out.

Schneider, M. S., Brown, L. S., & Glassgold, J. M. (June 2002). Implementing the resolution on appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation: A guide for the perplexed. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33 (3), 265-276.

  • Addresses questions that are often asked about sexual orientation issues and presents information that would help those working with GLB issues do so in a more effective and affirming way

Smith, B. (1993). Homophobia: Why bring it up? In H. Abelove, M. Barale, & D. Halperin (Eds.), The lesbian and gay studies reader (pp. 99-102).New York: Routledge.

  • Relays an incident that happened and how it magnified the allowance of mistreatment of GLB persons. Includes race as an issue and discussion of some challenges to having GLB issues be taken more seriously.
Waldo, C. R. (1998). Out on campus: Sexual orientation and academic climate in a university context. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26 (5), 745-774.
  • Discusses experiences of LGB students in university settings.

Cite this using APA style as:

Smith, B. (2006). Working more effectively in advising: Understanding multicultural dimensions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: [insert url here]

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