You may have read in the news recently about schools like Carson-Newman University that use their private school status and Christian background to legally discriminate against LGBT+ students. As a lesbian student in a conservative state such as Indiana, I can assure you that schools like this are not the norm.
One of the best things about college (no, not the parties, or the free food handed out in the middle of sidewalks) is how open-minded many of your classmates will be. Even in a conservative part of the country, like where I live in Indiana, all walks of life are accepted. Thanks to non-discrimination laws, public colleges and universities are required to be safe havens for LGBT+ students, and, even if you are experiencing harassment for your sexuality, school officials won’t encourage or allow it.
And it’s not just that schools are required by law to tolerate your sexuality. In my experience, most students and faculty members alike are genuinely accepting of and actively advocating for LGBT+ students and their rights. There are queer clubs, queer mentorship programs, and counseling services specifically targeted towards members of the LGBT+ community. There are even LGBT+ sorority and fraternity chapters, the queer sorority at my school being Gamma Rho Lambda; or, aptly abbreviated, GRL.
I’ll admit that I’m fairly lucky. I’ve never been a target of harassment because of my sexuality at any point during my educational career, but I know that others aren’t as fortunate. Just like anywhere, discrimination still happens on campus, but no one will be alone in experiencing it.
Chances are, your college campus is going to be significantly bigger than your high school, and with that population increase comes a stronger sense of community. I was one of only a few openly queer individuals at my high school, but I can't tell you how many out and proud members of the LGBT+ community I’ve met since starting at a university, even outside of clubs specifically designated as meeting places for them. The chances of you never having a class with, never sharing a dorm floor with, or never running into someone who identifies somewhere along the LGBT+ spectrum are slim. Being able to meet more queer people means being able to connect with more people who might be going through the same issues and struggles as you are. It means a bigger opportunity to make friends who share some of your same backgrounds and interests. And, frankly, it means a bigger dating pool.
For people from small towns, especially small, conservative towns where fewer people are likely to be open about their sexuality, college is a great opportunity to find a sense of community that may have been missing up to that point. No matter how far right your state leans, college remains that place where people go to expand their minds. In order to do that, they have to leave their minds open, not just to new academic theories and classes, but to new people and lifestyles as well.