In Perspective




Queer students of color navigate race and sexuality at a predominantly white institution.


Content warning: Discussions of racism and homophobia

I met Communication second-year Kalan Hauser on the bright purple couches lining the third floor of Norris. We were supposed to meet the day prior, but his flight back from attending Coachella had been delayed. Sitting on those couches, he talked to me about dance, about his experiences being a first-year and queer on dating apps like Grindr and about anti-Blackness at Northwestern.

“The assumption is that there’s colorblindness in queerness, and that’s not the reality,” Hauser told me.

Hauser talked about the stereotypes he’s faced as a Black queer student interacting with white queer students on campus. He described the microaggressions and coded commentary about his body. But he also taught me about self-love and his determination to not allow others to shut him down.

This article contains five perspectives of queer people of color at Northwestern, including Hauser’s. Two of these stories use pseudonyms names to protect the identities of the students. Understood individually, these are snapshots of the multifaceted experiences each student has faced on campus. Understood collectively, they speak to a wide range of queer POC experiences in proximity to whiteness, but no individual story can or should speak for the entire community.

Ismael Perez

As Bienen first-year Ismael Perez lugged his bags to Chapin Hall after landing at O’Hare mere hours before, he was ecstatic to enter a space where he didn’t need to hide his queer identity.

He imagined college as a “dream world of social acceptance.” But his dream world soon came crashing down, and reality took its place.

In Perez’s home in Miami, Florida, the attitude surrounding his queer identity was “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He loves his family, but their conservative Colombian roots meant being out at home wasn’t possible.

He believed Northwestern would be different. During Wildcat Welcome, interacting with his white queer peers through his PA group or programming activities, he noticed the racial diversity within the dating pool at Northwestern was smaller than he had hoped.

"But you come here and that part that’s supposed to make you feel so free makes you feel so alone."

Ismael Perez, Bienen first-year

Staring at his phone, Perez saw the messages he’d sent asking guys out for coffee or just conversation during their first week on campus. He had been rejected or left on read more times than he could count.

As he looked around campus, he saw the common denominator. His queer friends were white and going out with other queer white students. Perez is Afro-Latino.

“It was almost heartbreaking, because your entire life, you’ve felt like you never really belonged anywhere. All of the sudden now, everyone is teaching you, ‘Love your gay self, your gay parts.’ But you come here and that part that’s supposed to make you feel so free makes you feel so alone,” Perez says.

Isolation. That’s what Perez felt after he arrived on campus. Rejection came so often during his first Fall Quarter that it was one of the main subjects of conversation with his therapist. Although he never considered himself ugly, Perez couldn’t brush aside the fact that he wasn’t seeing white queer students going out with people that looked like him.

“It messes with your self-esteem in ways I didn’t think possible,” Perez says. “Something about me is not catering to a person’s idea or perception of attractiveness.”

The isolation that began in his dating life quickly spilled over into Perez’s friendships. Earlier this year, he comforted a friend as they shared concerns about entering straight male spaces on campus, like frat parties, or walking alone late at night in Evanston.

These were fears Perez understood well. But being Black, Latino and queer, he couldn’t help but recognize that he and his friend, a white student, were in different positions of privilege when it came to these concerns.

“I get where they’re coming from, but at the same time, it’s like, think about the people you’re talking to when you’re telling them this,” Perez says. “I’m like, ‘Imagine how we feel!’”

This lack of intersectional awareness left Perez wondering how much he should try to engage with his queer friends. He questioned how significant his queerness should be in his life at Northwestern.

“You don’t fit into this perfect little standard of what the pretty gay guys are supposed to look like. You’re not it and you, as a matter of fact, are going to get excluded from these white spaces,” Perez says.

Perez still doesn’t feel entirely welcome in queer spaces on campus. But he discovered that he doesn’t have to be in a LGBTQ+ space to be accepted. In Black and Latino cultural clubs on campus, like For Members Only (FMO) and Alianza, Perez has found friends who understand his Afro-Colombian roots, accept all facets of his identity and provide a support system.

“It’s been a really isolating experience, but when you have other queer POC, you really do feel that you’re not as alone in the whole college experience,” Perez says. “It’s not necessarily a trauma bond, but sometimes I think the fact that you both went through very similar things really does help you try to move on past it.”


Coming from a small, not-so- diverse high school, Tara*, a South Asian second-year student, yearned to embrace her queer identity at Northwestern.

She wasn’t out to her parents and had only recently accepted that she was gay. But in Evanston, Tara* wanted to surround herself with people who were also queer.

Being South Asian, she realized that some aspects of queer culture on campus were unfamiliar to her. Many queer students around her hadn’t heard of the Bollywood movies Tara* grew up watching. She couldn’t help but think that if other lesbians were listening to Phoebe Bridgers, she probably should too.

“It becomes disillusioning after a while, because a lot of the things that I think I’m conditioned to think are queer culture, like queer movies or music, are also very whitewashed,” Tara* says.

The cultural disconnect started with music and TV, but it spiraled for Tara* as she encountered fundamental differences in the ways she and her queer friends approached their sexualities.

“Sometimes people will be talking about introducing their parents to people they’re dating or when they came out,” Tara* says. “It’s not just that those conversations are things I can’t relate to. They’re also a bit jarring. And it’s a place that I don’t want to go to.”

Tara* doesn’t tell many people at Northwestern that she’s not out to her family. Even her closest friends, she says, struggled to understand her family dynamic. “I’m so sorry your family feels that way,” or “that’s so unfair,” they told her. But she doesn’t see her situation that way.

It took Tara* years to come to terms with her sexuality. In her mind, if she had a hard time getting a grasp of her own identity, she couldn’t expect her conservative South Asian family to understand overnight. It’s a process. But it’s a process that she feels few of her white friends understand.

Over time, Tara’s* desire to embrace her queerness gave way to homesickness. She hadn’t found a cultural connection within the queer community, so she reached out to other South Asians on campus.

“I do think I’ve found a lot of home among my South Asian friends, because regardless of who you’re dating, you experience the [predominantly white institution] of Northwestern,” Tara* says.

South Asian culture is deeply tied to family, according to Tara*. This was a value she saw reflected in her conversations with her South Asian friends. They loved to talk about big cultural gatherings like weddings: what they would wear, where they would get married.

Once again, Tara* found herself in a gray space. She enjoyed the excitement surrounding these conversations about dating and weddings, but it also made her wonder what her wedding would look like. She knew these kinds of family gatherings would be different for her, because she wasn’t out in those spaces.

"It becomes disillusioning after a while, because a lot of the things that I think I’m conditioned to think are queer culture, like queer movies or music, are also very whitewashed."

Tara*, second-year

Tara* had spent all of high school forced to perform heterosexuality, from questions surrounding crushes to who she would be taking to prom. Once she came to Northwestern, that pressure was lifted. Tara* was able to find community and feel more herself with her South Asian friends.

“To come to a space where [queerness] was a lot more casual, and people were not bothered by it, and it didn’t feel high stakes to be like, ‘Oh, I may not be straight,’ was really nice,” Tara* says.

Ultimately, Tara* knows that when people look at her, they see a South Asian person, not a queer person. But she also knows that even if her South Asian friends aren’t all queer, they will continue creating a safe space for her to flourish by embracing the parts of her culture that other white queer students may not relate to.

“I think it was realizing that, even though there are parts of myself that I can’t really express around my family, it’s important for me to be around people who share that part of my experience," Tara* says.

Jude Abijah

There’s a poem that SESP second- year Jude Abijah carries with him every day. Stored in the notes app on their phone sits Pat Parker’s “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend.” The first two lines summarize for Abijah what it means to be a queer student of color entering predominantly white queer spaces.

“The first thing you do is to forget that I’m black. / Second, you must never forget that I’m black,” Parker writes.

When Abijah walks into predominantly Black or African American spaces on campus, his queerness comes with him. They can be themselves in these spaces, unafraid of judgment. But he can’t always say the same about the LGBTQ+ spaces he enters.

Part of the reason for this is the appropriation of Black culture in queer spaces, Abijah says. A prominent example is the use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE).

“My parents are African immigrants, and so I didn’t necessarily grow up speaking AAVE to the same extent that African Americans did,” Abijah says. “And it kind of shocks me when I hear white people, or just non-Black people of color, using and often misusing AAVE terms in their speech online.”

Periodt, purr, finna and chile are all examples Abijah gave of slang from Black culture and history that have been adopted by many queer people. This language has cropped up more than once from the mouths of non- Black students, according to Abijah.

“I just wonder, where did you learn that from?” Abijah says. “What formative experiences specifically allowed you to understand the cultural significance of what you’re saying? I feel like a lot of the time I’m in queer spaces, it’s a lot of Black culture represented without the Black faces.”

In academic spaces, Abijah has also talked with friends about white students in African American studies classes raising their hand to comment on subjects like decolonization or white supremacy. Situations like these left Abijah wondering why white students were entering these spaces and leaving many Black students unable to take the class or voice their thoughts on these subjects.

“I have seen white queer people on this campus, and even non-Black queer people of color, speaking on anti-Blackness in ways that are very racist and uninformed. And I really wish that there would be more reflection,” Abijah says.

Abijah has found a support system within a community of Black peers in the Black Mentorship Program who understand this divergence because they’ve lived it themselves. By participating in this program and going to FMO events and queer affinity spaces, Abijah felt open to being himself.

"My Blackness and my queerness are intertwined with each other. You don’t have to treat me different, in a negative way, because I’m a Black person. But you also have to realize that because I am a Black person, I am inherently different from you."

Jude Abijah, SESP second-year

Like the Pat Parker poem, Abijah’s advice to the white person who wishes to be his friend is to recognize that as a Black person, Abijah enters spaces with experiences that others might never be able to understand.

But if they are willing to listen and practice justice in their own life, then community building can start.

“My Blackness and my queerness are intertwined with each other,” Abijah says. “You don’t have to treat me different, in a negative way, because I’m a Black person. But you also have to recognize that because I am a Black person, I am inherently different from you.”


Parker*, a queer Asian American third-year, started dating his partner, a white queer student, over a year ago. When they began dating, Parker* shared with a friend that he was concerned he would have to spend part of his relationship on education surrounding race.

Parker’s* friend told him about a concept called radicalization through love. Created by an Asian American feminist coalition in New York City, this idea was formed by a group of mothers who questioned how to use love to resist marginalization and dehumanization.

“This idea of radicalization through love is basically saying that we can change people’s minds for the better and teach them through an act of love, and it’s been something that really stuck with me,” Parker* says. “I love my partner very much and yes, he does things that are not great, but like, same. I mean, I have a lot of growing to do too.”

Before Parker* committed himself to radical love and engaged with Asian American feminist queer literature, he was a first-year, excited to be surrounded by queer people on his dorm floor.

But during his freshman year, he also started dating white partners who told their friends to “just try” dating an Asian person to see how they would like it. He had another partner who asked to edit his face to look whiter.

"This idea of radicalization through love is basically saying that we can change people’s minds for the better and teach them through an act of love, and it’s been something that really stuck with me."

Parker*, third-year

At the time, Parker* didn’t realize these comments or actions were tokenizing or fetishizing, and beyond just the impact of the statements, it wasn’t a stranger saying these things. It was friends and partners — people he was in an active community with.

Parker* has always believed that when his partner says or does things that are misinformed, it doesn’t come from a malicious place. Radical love means practicing understanding, and part of the reason Parker* is willing to do this is because he knows his partner is receptive to change.

“I know that he’s a good person, and I have a lot of faith in him,” Parker* says. “When we talk about it, he really takes it and digests what I’m saying. That’s my philosophy on the world.”

But not everyone is willing to be in a relationship that requires racial education. Parker* has spoken with friends who are people of color that have said they have no desire to date a white person, out of self-protection.

“People need to heal how they need to heal,” Parker* says.

Parker* and his best friend, a biracial queer student, have been able to find community in their friendship. They both understand the implications of educating white partners and the pressures to date people within their race.

“Because we’re both queer people of color, we just both understand things that other people will just not understand. That is really grounding in a lot of ways and affirming that we are both sane,” Parker* says.

Using this idea of radical love, Parker* and his partner have been able to form a great relationship. And ultimately, his bottom line is that the people in his life, regardless of identity, should bring him joy.

“Honestly, the only reason now that I am really able to articulate queer theory or queer of color critique, and understand racialized issues in a much more comprehensive way is yes, because of the education I’ve gotten here, but mostly because of people who have shown me love and grace and compassion and patience,” Parker* says. “I’m very aware of that, and I just don’t think it’s productive to not show other people the same.”

Kalan Hauser

In the moments before the lights turn on, when Kalan Hauser is on stage dancing for Refresh Dance Crew or Fusion Dance Company, he looks at the audience. He never lets them sense discomfort or fear, and once the music turns on and the steps flow out of him, Hauser is one hundred percent himself. Unapologetically.

This is also Hauser’s philosophy for reconciling his identity as a Black and queer student on campus. But putting his best foot forward every day hasn’t been effortless.

While on Tinder and Grindr his first year, Hauser swiped through the profiles of white queer students sharing preferences for potential partners at Northwestern. When he read their bios, he realized how unwelcome he was in the queer community’s dating pool.

“They have their preferences and what they’re looking for, and oftentimes in their description, they have exclusionary preferences,” Hauser says. “They’ll say, ‘No fat, no bulky, no Black, no Latino.’ It boils down to a direct dislike for people of color.""

On dating apps that allow users to filter through race, Hauser noticed some of his white queer peers at Northwestern using these features to avoid matching with him. To Hauser, this behavior spoke volumes about how anti-Blackness was excused in predominantly white spaces.

“There’s a comfortability to be able to do that,” Hauser says. “There’s no fear of being ostracized by anyone on the app. It’s primarily because it’s a white majority.”

In past conversations, Hauser has had white queer students in person skip past greetings and “how are you” and begin commenting on his body.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a genuine connection with someone because of this part of my identity that’s often objectified, fetishized and just completely disregarded,” Hauser says.

"I think my queerness and Blackness is beautiful. I’ve learned to live truly in myself. For the people who see my beauty, see my worth and want to get to know me as a human, then I will open up my figurative arms for them in my life. But for those who don’t, I’m not going to stop shining for you."

Kalen Hauser, Communication second-year

Many white queer students have not had to navigate the implications of their race on their sexuality and gender identity, so Hauser believes there is a lack of experience that seperates white queer students from people of color like him, who are consistently confronted with assumptions about their race.

Understanding this anti-Black rhetoric to be prominent in white queer spaces, Hauser doesn’t know if there’s a space for all of his identities to be welcomed on campus.

“Anti-Blackness is so ingrained in everything in our society, this assumption that Black specific people are aggressive; we can sexualize them; they’re not worthy of being humanized,” Hauser says. “As a Black man, when I walk into a room, it’s just not the same as any other person.”

While Hauser could walk into a room and linger on the ambiguous stares he receives, he instead tells himself that they are looks of admiration. He changes his mindset to stand strong. He looks in the mirror every morning and tells himself that he looks good.

“You just have to say things to yourself to make you feel comfortable to move in these spaces because without that, how do you exist? How do you live?” Hauser says. “Especially as a Black queer person, you have all these people doubting you, making assumptions, spewing things at you. You can’t let them get to you.”

Hauser doesn’t believe in shielding his Blackness for others; he wants to embrace it. For him, radical self-love and acceptance is the key to living with these intersecting identities.

“I think my queerness and Blackness is beautiful,” Hauser says. “I’ve learned to live truly in myself. For the people who see my beauty, see my worth and want to get to know me as a human, then I will open up my figurative arms for them in my life. But for those who don’t, I’m not going to stop shining for you."

*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.


Writing Ali Bianco

Editing Jimmy He & Sela Breen

Print Design Emma Estberg

Web Design & Development Meher Yeda