Discrimination continues to threaten the comfort and expression of queer youth


Kai Tilly

UNC Asheville senior Kai Tilly dawning face paint, standing in front of the Trans flag.

Verna Townson, News Writer, [email protected]

Despite the legalization of same-sex marriage as well as established ordinances against LGBTQ+ discrimination, queer residents in North Carolina continue to face discrimination from their peers and employers. The homophobia and discrimination queer youth face have lasting impacts on their overall health and well-being.

Kai Tilly works on campus at UNC Asheville and they recognize UNCA as a safe space for white queer individuals.

“Everyone here is a lot more accepting, there’s a wider queer community here so I feel more open about being myself. I also don’t face much discrimination here compared to back home,” Tilly said. 

Although UNCA provides a safe space most of the time, students still experience discrimination on campus.

Tilly said they often get misgendered at work by a coworker. In December of 2022, Kai discussed their experience at work. 

“They constantly call me ‘she,’ ‘her’ and ‘lady,’ even though they know I don’t use those pronouns,” Tilly said. 

At least 1 in 5 LGBTQ citizens have experienced discrimination in housing, the workplace or at college due to their identities according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Kai said they’ve experienced only good things from the majority of their professors and other faculty members employed on campus. 

UNCA offers programs intended to uplift and support queer students such as the SAGE Program, Safe Zone and the Multicultural Leadership Council. 

Baylee Ely was terminated from her job due to the physical affection she shared with her platonic friend and coworker, Allana about a month ago. 

Baylee said she defines discrimination as people treating her differently just because they don’t agree with how she expresses herself or the people she associates with, and she acknowledges that she has faced discrimination in her former place of work. 

Over 45% of LGBT workers reported unfair treatment at work, either being fired or not hired due to their orientation according to the William’s Institute. 

“They told me they were letting me go for being on my phone too much,” Ely said. “A few hours afterward, I decided to have a conversation with them because it’s a stupid reason to fire somebody without giving a warning or trying to figure it out.”

Although there are federal and local protections for queer individuals such as the Bostock v. Clayton County case, of the employees reporting discrimination or harassment to UCLA the Williams’s Institute, 31% state it happened in the past 5 years. 

The management at the dog kennel told Baylee  there was more to her termination, informing her it was also her physically affectionate friendship with Allana. Ely’s boss informed her  although they would similarly confront a heterosexual couple, this instance was more sensitive because it is a same-sex relationship. 

Due to discrimination and fear of social exclusion, 53% of LGBTQ employees hide their sexual orientation at the workplace according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. 

Baylee said she often has friends and family question if her bisexuality is real, other times people fetishize her sexual orientation rather than see it as a part of her identity. 

LGBTQ+ youth respondents reported that 75% of them have faced discrimination based on their orientation or identity at least once in their life, according to the Trevor Project. 

Ely said she’s experienced harmful situations due to her sexuality but she tries to disregard these experiences to avoid emotional distress. Although, some situations have impacted her, such as the time her former girlfriend’s family threatened to kick her out if they were to stay together. 

Nearly 30% of LGBTQ participants in the 2021 National Survey of LGBTQ Youth Mental Health had experienced housing instability or became unhoused. 

“They straight up told her they were going to disown her if she continued to date me,” Baylee said. “They were just like, ‘we will disown you, you will be kicked out and not a family anymore,’ so we had to break up.”  

Gay and bisexual youth alongside other sexual minorities are more likely to be rejected by their families. Around 40% of homeless youth are LGBT, according to the CDC. 

Lennon O’Hagan, the community outreach coordinator for the menstrual equity club at UNCA, has two years of experience interacting with students and faculty members. 

“It’s been really wonderful,” O’Hagan said in November of last year. “I’ve been in it for two years. Now I work really closely with it, all the leadership in the club is LGBT,” O’Hagan said. 

Out of the 1.2 million same-sex couple households in America, 33,000 of them exist in North Carolina, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. 

“I’ve never felt like my queerness has affected my safety on campus, there have been times  I felt like my gender has, but not because I’m trans or nonbinary,” O’Hagan said.

Last year, Asheville City Council unanimously adopted a non-discrimination ordinance prohibiting discrimination in employment and public accommodations.  Individuals who face unlawful discriminatory practice may file a complaint with the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

“I think overall the student body is accepting of LGBT identities and the people that aren’t, at least in my experience, tend to keep quiet about it or ignore it,” O’Hagan said.

UNCA also attempts to recognize LGBTQ+ students through the Lavender Graduation Ceremony, established to celebrate and recognize the achievements of queer students and allies. 

“I think the lavender graduation is important because queer students specifically face a lot of adversities that cis-gendered, heterosexual students may not face. I think it’s an accomplishment for queer people to make it through college because so many queer people don’t, so it’s important to me that it gets recognized,” O’Hagan said.

Eddie Davis, 22, is a former student of North Carolina State University. Davis is a queer individual who’s received mixed signals from their associates who are aware of her queerness. 

“Being on campus for the two years I was and watching queer people get harassed by street preachers and hearing news from years prior about the LGBT center getting vandalized made it clear that life is very different. Being openly queer feels like slapping a neon target on your back,” Eddie said last November. 

The CDC states that homophobia, stigma and discrimination can increase the chance of queer youth experiencing violence such as bullying, teasing, harassment, physical assault and suicide-related behaviors.

“I remember when my freshman year roommate’s mom saw my pride flag hanging in the room, she looked at her daughter and said, ‘make sure she doesn’t watch you change.’ At 17, this was my first experience ever being out so that crushed me for a little bit,” Eddie said. 

LGBT people are approximately four times more likely to experience violent crime than non-LGBT people according to the Williams Institute. 

“It’s interesting when you find out old friends’ opinions on queer topics and you discover  a lot of people you used to know are blatantly homophobic,” Davis said. 

Queer people are also twice as likely to be a victim of gun violence than cis-gendered, heterosexual individuals according to the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data. Most victims are transgender people of color, although any queer community member can be a victim of a hate crime or gun violence. 

“I feel like I see being queer as a net positive in my life, however on campus, I would see it as a negative or scary thing. It is a little scary because while campus is fairly accepting there are always those who aren’t, and if people have the drive to hurt someone it isn’t exactly hard to track someone down,” Eddie said. 

Seven percent of cisgender youth have been threatened or injured on school property with a weapon, this number more than triples for the 29% of transgender students who face the same discrimination at a much higher rate. 

“I’m currently out at my job and being surrounded by other people who are my age and up and also openly queer is very comforting verses when I was younger, I didn’t know any queer people that I could look to,” Eddie said. 

As the LGBT population continues to become recognized, they continue to be disproportionately affected by acts of hate. Bisexuals faced a 4% increase in violent victimization from 2017 to 2020.

“Being queer is something I wanted to change about myself for a very long time. Now, I would never want to change that. Having a community you can rely on with shared experiences is something that is very comforting and important especially when moving to a new city,” Davis said.