You Need Help: Your College Roommates Are Homophobic Assholes

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Q: Rachel, if my college housemates turn out to be really homophobic, what then?

A: Basically, what will happen is: you will leave. It will be okay, because you will leave. Living with homophobic people at college requires, in a lot of ways, the exact same skills and strategies as living with homophobic people at home. This sucks, because in a lot of cases, that’s a large part of what you went to college to try to get away from. The things you had to do there weren’t fun: you had to stay quiet, sometimes totally silent, about your personal life and your friends and your crushes. You had to pretend a whole part of yourself didn’t exist. You had to be vague about where you were going and with whom, you had to be careful not to leave books out where people would find them. There will be a lot more of that. I know that’s not fair. But the same thing is true now as it was then: it won’t last forever. You’ll get to escape. And in this case, it will take even less time than before! Maybe only a semester!

When you’re first on campus, it’s time to scope out your living situation. As we’ve discussed before, I don’t think you have an obligation to come out to your roommates, definitely not right away. Make small talk, listen to how they talk about other people and what they’re like around their friends. You know a homophobe when you see one; you have instincts around this. If your spider senses are tingling and telling you it’s not a good idea to come out — it’s not! Don’t do it! Your strategy here will instead turn into one of non-engagement. We’re talking one-word answers, politely acknowledging them on your way in or out of the apartment because that’s the only time you’ll see them. Basically, the way to deal with homophobic housemates is to make sure you’re literally in the same house as them as little as possible. When you are home, you’re in your room with the door closed. Do they think it’s unfriendly? That’s too fucking bad. Honestly, while the TV trope of the random college roommates who hang out all the time is a nice one, and it does happen sometimes, it also frequently doesn’t. People can and do pass entire years without saying more than hello and goodbye in the room. You don’t owe these people being friends with them.

Instead, start looking for other places to go. Do you have friends with couches? Do you have a friend with the unicorn of campus life, the dingle?  Do you have friends who at least stay up late so you can hang out with them until 2 am and your roommates will be asleep or raging or playing My Dream Boyfriend or whatever it is that homophobic straight people do? Seriously, even if you have a 24-hour campus center or library hours, you have an option.


Obviously this sucks. Obviously it’s unfair for you to have to basically give up your own home because you live with some douchecanoes. It sucks that when (not if!) you meet someone, you’ll have to do one of those “Uh, we probably shouldn’t go back to my place” things. But unfortunately, you have to put being safe before life being fair. And in the meantime, try to get out. Many colleges will let you make residence changes after one semester or even sooner. People drop out, or never show up, and rooms appear. Go to your housing administration or office of resident life and tell them you want a change. If you meet someone your first semester that you actually WANT to live with, someone that you feel safe around, so much the better! Your former roommates never have to know that you moved out because you’re gay and they’re assholes; just tell them that you’re moving in with a friend, and they’ll just be pumped to have the extra space.

If, regardless of how hard you try, shit still gets out of hand, you need to tell someone ASAP. Don’t just tell someone, tell EVERYONE. Your RA, the office of resident life, the office of student conduct, your mom, their moms, everyone. Honestly, it’s totally possible that most of those people won’t do anything. But the more people you tell, the better the chance someone will. And at the very least, having contacted them will hopefully really fast-track your application to change housing.

You asked this a week ago; hopefully you got to campus and your roommates are now your new best friends for real. If not, know that you’re not stuck with them. This is still going to be four years of freedom for you, and there’s nothing they can do about it.


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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. If all else fails, find a relevant portion of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights and quote it at them.

    I managed to get an unco-operative administration to move me within three weeks of term starting by doing this. I think the housing woman was a little scared.

  2. pretty lucky i don’t think my flatmates are homophobes or anything but i’m not out to them anyway
    i just haven’t felt the need to tell them so far
    also when i tell them i know they’ll start finding it awkward to relate to me and we’re still just getting to know each other, so…

  3. I’m rooming with a girl I went to high school with. My reasoning: I won’t have a creepy lesbian roommate. Her reasoning: She won’t have a creepy lesbian roommate (“You don’t creep on me!”) We have a blacklight, a mini fridge, a microwave, and an espresso machine. We are both sarcastic as fuck and like to party.


  4. Sometimes homophobes become regular nice people when they find out that they know a real life homo. Sucks that you don’t get a gay wingwoman right away, but remember that a bunch of 18 year olds from nowhere, USA have never met a lesbian before so their views are more informed by the Bachmanns than by reality. Give them a chance to get to know awesome you and your awesome gayness, and there’s a good chance they’ll change their mind. Then we’ll have one more vote for gay marriage.

    If they don’t change their mind, all above advice applies.

    • I second this. One of my former roommates was like that. She was very sheltered. I don’t think she really knew that gay people were a thing. We were never best friends or anything, but she was very nice and we got along fine as roommates.

    • as someone in a state that just now voted to put an anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot in may 2012…i agree with this. the more people who “know” a gay person, the less likely they are to discriminate against them. #northcarolina #sendhappythoughts

    • While I think this is excellent advice for that guy in your English class, I think it’s a bit trickier when you have to share living space with a person.

  5. Rachel’s advice is great, but I’d add something to that: if you’re one of those introverted people for whom your room is your sanctuary and being alone in public just isn’t the same as doing it at home, I would start pushing for the roommate change sooner rather than later. I had an incredibly unreasonable roommate my second semester of freshman year. She expected me to go to bed at exactly the same time as she did, and if I didn’t, she threw a fit (usually with the aim of making me late for whatever class I had next) and/or locked me out of the room. I felt I couldn’t be myself in my room, and it made me severely depressed. I did get a roommate change eventually, but I wish I had dealt with it sooner – as soon as I figured out the roommate was beyond the reach of reason and politeness – rather than trying to work it out.

    Of course, if you go this route, you have to be pretty sure there’s a problem. Don’t go for a roommate switch just because she uses “gay” as an insult. But if your roommate really makes you feel like you can’t be yourself in your own room, tell that to Res Life and explain why. I know of people who had to get roommate switches because of ultra-conservative and/or homophobic roommates. If you have a good case and reasonable people in the Res Life office, they will accommodate you. Ever since Tyler Clementi, I don’t think colleges want to mess around with the mental health of LGBT students.

  6. I remember i was really worried about this last year because i’d never had flatmates before. The most stressful thing for me at first was that one of them was Slovakian and I thought all of eastern Europe was homophobic. Totally wrong! She was fine with it, as they all were [even if they thought that, because English isn’t my first language, I meant “girl who’s a friend” when i said “girlfriend” the first couple of times I tried to come out in conversation.]

  7. I actually came out to my roommate earlier this week. She said she was fine with it. I had talked to my RA before I told my roommate so she had to follow up with my roommate once I told her. I had asked what my roommate told her, and my RA said that “it was fine for now.” Really don’t know what that is supposed to mean….

  8. When you say: “unicorn of campus life, the dingle?” I immediately think you mean “dangle”, and then I wish I went to a school where guys were as rare as mythical creatures and hot girls are everywhere :p

  9. One time I wrote some passive aggressive Facebook status about how people say words like “fag” and sound really idiotic, like, learn some new words, you know? And my roommate (correctly) figured out that it was about her boyfriend, who also lived with us and who was fond of playing WOW late at night and yelling all kinds of homophobic, racist shit at the people he was playing with. It got kind of messy after that.

    SO THE MORAL HERE IS… um, I’d say being passive aggressive about it is the worst thing you can do, because if they catch you, then you look like the bad guy/super loser when really you’re trying to be the opposite, and that’s no way to prove a point. If you get to a place where you can talk to them frankly, then call out their bad behavior, as politely as you can, when you see it happening. Most people will at least be a bit more considerate if you sincerely tell them, “You know, what you just said really offended me.” Or at least that’s how they should be.

    Also, a well-timed, perfectly executed “bitch face” will do wonders. There’s no way they can respond to that, because you didn’t say any words, but your message is clear.

    • I wish that were true. I have tried, many, many times to directly and politely ask people to not say things like “fag” and “that’s so gay” around me because I find it extremely offensive. All that happens is that they give me crap, call me a stuck up whiny prude/bitch, tell me they know lots of gay people and it doesn’t bother them, and I should just get over it, etc. It turns into a massive fight 9 times out of 10, and everyone leaves angry and I have to walk away before someone gets hurt. It’s humiliating and infuriating and I have so many feelings right now and to sum up, passive-aggressive or direct, it makes no difference, people are still ass-hats.

      • Well that sucks. I guess I was operating under the illusion that it makes people really uncomfortable to offend other people (and then I remembered that not everyone is me). This seems to be an age when people resent the idea that they should be politically correct, so I should actually stop being naive.

      • i constantly police the teenagers that i work with, in regards to this language. they know that it’s not okay to say these kinds of things. maybe it’s different with peers, but i’ve found that if you approach it honestly and sincerely, you have a better chance of getting through to them. *not whiny or bitchy…do they mean that someone is gay or are they being derogatory…using “gay” as a slur is not okay*

      • To the casual gay/etc insult made by an anti-PC person, I like to respond in a very distracted tone, very little eye contact, like I’m not even thinking about what I’m saying, “Does that mean all gays ____ or something?” I fill in the blank with something obviously of no correlation. (The microwave is gay due to broken buttons? Insert “have broken buttons” above.) I listen to how they respond, and then I apologize for being distracted. If they’re cool, maybe that’ll be the last of it, or it might be easier to bring it up later. If they’re not cool, I’ll probably know.

  10. Remember, just because people start off as homophobic assholes doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way. I go to a super liberal, super gay liberal arts college so when I did a semester program in New York my junior year I didn’t think twice before openly talking about my girlfriend, having become so accustomed to it just being a non-issue. My Bosnian roommate didn’t happen to feel the same way and spent the first two months of our time together all but ignoring me. Needless to say, those months were uncomfortable and I did all I could to avoid my room.

    But I never gave her a reason to justify her discomfort and dislike of me past my sexual orientation. I made sure not to give in to passive- aggression or snark. And it worked. About half way through the semester she realized her bitchiness was unjustified and by the end of the semester we were bonding, she extended an invitation for my girlfriend to stay for a weekend, and offered me a place to stay if I ever visit Bosnia. Long story short, while homophobia isn’t your fault or something you should have to deal with, if you do your best not to engage with the negativity there’s hope and maybe you’ll help someone open their eyes a bit wider.

  11. or you could room with Craigslist strangers from your school one summer after you leave things too late and can’t find friends to room with, and you freak out initially about how/whether to come out to them, only to find that 3/4 of those housemates are also gay or bi and they take you to your first Pride parade.

    I was a lucky babyqueer.

  12. I’m an RA and I might offer someone in this situation some slightly different advice.

    Living on campus is really fun and a great way to make friendships that will last long after you’ve graduated. It isn’t, however, always completely easy. One of the biggest benefits of living on campus/with other people, is the learning experience and personal empowerment that can come from interacting within a community that has so many resources (RAs/CAs/House Managers) and gives people of many different backgrounds the freedom to flex their personal identities and learn about others.

    Living with someone who is different from you can help both of you grow as a people, both by affirming your own identities and also learning about each other.

    While part of an RAs job is to promote understanding of different cultures, it is also to encourage residents to grow and learn how to do things for themselves. I would encourage my LGBT resident to speak directly to their homophobic roommate, to the extent that they could do so comfortably and safely. Depending on the person, that could mean coming out. It could also mean not coming out, but instead simply speaking to their roommate about, perhaps, not using hate speech. Part of successfully living with another person, no matter what it is that makes the two of you different, is being able to have conversations that establish the rules of what is and is not okay within the living space and the interactions with each other. Just like the differences of cleanliness preferences, the conflict of morning people/nocturnal people, different religious or political expression, and the attitudes about visitors, roommates need to learn how to have those conversations (even when the topic is difficult or involves some healthy conflict) so that each person has a respectful environment to live in.

    My hope, as an RA, would be that my LGBT residents would learn how to express themselves well about their identity (a skill that would serve them well in every community/job/activity they participate in in the future) and that the homophobic resident would learn how to acceptably interact with LGBT people.

    If you feel threatened by your roommate, however, contact your RA or a University professional to get the situation rectified quickly to keep you safe.

    • And to this I would say: no.

      In a situation where someone just hasn’t met a real life gay person before and everybody needs to do a bit of negotiating boundaries, fine. But if someone is homophobic enough to make a gay person feel uncomfortable, depressed, etc in their room, no one should have to spend a year of their life feeling like that so some bigot can maybe learn and grow.

      If they haven’t realised by 18+ that it isn’t okay to hate people, then I c hope they do figure that out during their time at college, but the burden is not on the gay person to sacrifice part of their mental health/enjoyment of college to be a learning experience.

      “Feeling threatened” is a pretty extreme (even dangerous?) requirement and I would hope people would book it long before that.

      • I would definitely consider someone who has enough power over their roommate to make them feel depressed, to be a threatening, aggressive, and possibly even abusive person who would DEFINITELY need to be dealt with. The resident in that case would need different living arrangements ASAP, but more than that, the threatening figure needs to be handled/receive the help that they need as well.

        Also, I feel that NO college student should be in a situation that compromises his or her mental health or enjoyment of college.

        Outside of that though, college is a time for everyone to grow and for previously held ideas to be challenged. Colleges and Universities have, of course, RAs to keep tabs on everyone so that bad/threatening situations do not arise or are at least resolved quickly. Also, it is explicitly the job of the RA to help people live together amicably and understand points of diversity that they had not previously.

        That is why I would encourage any resident to try to bond with their roommate, even if they have cultural differences and conflicting perspectives. It is completely possible, and often times very productive, for people of different outlooks to form close and healthy bonds with one another. Plus, in a place where there RAs and a building full of people who are made up of people who are both like you and not like you, you gain that experience of working within a community as well.

        Residence halls are, in my opinion, play grounds for the real world. For LGBT people it is a time to experience forming relationships with other LGBT people, allies, and people who do not agree with homosexuality (etc.). For LGBT people, college is a time to experience the joys of meeting people who are like you and who love/appreciate you regardless of your orientation, but also a time to learn how to work with and maintain good relationships with people who are not on board with their lifestyle/orientation.

        That way, when, in the real world, the “what if my landlord is a homophobic asshole?”, or “what if my boss is a homophobic asshole?”, or “what if the majority of the voting population in my country is a homophobic asshole, then what?” that person has a framework of reference and interpersonal skills to navigate those various situations as well as they can possibly be handled.

        It takes a very long time to get to that level though. Any person who is perhaps coming to college directly from a homophobic household, or anyone who is struggling in any other way should consult their college to see if they match roommates on general compatibility or not and request a living situation with someone who is not homophobic.

        • Er… wow. I gotta agree with the “no”.

          It’s all well and good to say that people ought to learn how to deal with a sort of generalized rainbow of people from different backgrounds and learn to live in harmony and stuff… this is a case of a

          — gay person
          — living in a room with
          — a person with explicit prejudices against gay people

          What you’re suggesting, effectively, is that gay people by the fact of going to college and being assigned a homophobic roommate have some sort of moral or actual obligation to be a self-narrating zoo exhibit for someone who has a specific prejudice against something that they are — and even more, that they can anticipate to “grow” from having their “previously held beliefs” challenged. Which sounds awesome until you consider that the belief in question is “My own sexual orientation is okay.”

          The hug-and-get-along stuff sounds all nice… to a point, at which point it rapidly turns quite ugly. Bigotry is not an Improving Experience, and frankly anyway there has to be some point in a young *adult’s* life where they can have a professional rather than a parental relationship with the people who are teaching them. You want to talk about Important Real World Skills? That is one.

        • I think that, as well-meaning as this all sounds to you, if someone came to you with concerns about a homophobic roommate and this was your response, you would be doing them a serious disservice.

          Kids, if this what your RA says to you, this is a time when you go to another RA, or the housing office, or whoever’s in charge of student welfare, or the LGBT rep in your student governing body, or whoever it takes until you find someone who doesn’t view homophobia as a quaint cultural difference/ learning experience. You have the right to better than that.

          • Thank you for helping me realize that I perhaps phrased some things poorly, as well as talking about a different side of this issue without clearly identifying it.

            I have dealt with situations where residents did need to be moved and were directed to outside professional resources to deal with a situation surrounding homophobia, racism, and other forms of discrimination. In a case like that, I am unaware of any school that would overlook rectifying the situation.

            I was intending to describe what needs to happen before that happens, or circumstances where “homophobia” is a preemptive misdiagnosis (and is a situation of cultural differences).

            In any case, any resident who even remotely guesses that homophobia is going to be an issue in a living situation should contact not only their RA but other RAs (and the professional staff in their building) anyway, in my opinion, because it is a situation that can escalate quickly. In any conversation with your housing official, be as detailed and specific as possible, because with student life, there is no such thing as too much information.

            I apologize for anything in my previous comments that was perceived to take homophobia lightly. Homophobia is a very serious issue, and I truly did not intend to describe anything else.

  13. Sharing from someone who’s been there.. sorta.

    Staying in the closet in your own home away from home blows. Communication is soooo important. Try to find out if they’re not homophobic before assuming the worst. Otherwise, some day in the future, you might be having a laugh at all the things you did to hide your homogayness from your also homogay roomate. D’OH!

    The other side of it is if you know for sure your roomate is a homophobic, bible-busting, going to avoid you like the plague if you come out type… Maybe don’t ever tell them. Spending a year in the closet sucks, but less than exile in your own home, at best.

  14. I am going to need All the College Posts next year so I am super excited about this article. Also hopefully I get a nice roommate, possibly another cute lesbian, though I’ve heard sleeping with your roommate is a bad idea that probably would not stop me.

    • Lesbosexy Sunday wasn’t blocked, but this was? That’s weird! Also, why does your phone care if you read adult content?

  15. wait.
    lemme say that not all RAs are shitty and will neglect this kind of concern. I wouldn’t! I would say DO talk to your RA and if they are a douchebag, maybe there’s another RA around who will be more helpful. I hope so!

  16. I work as an RA in a youth program and while we encourage learning to appreciate diversity, there’s a point where something has to change. If one of my students was spending all their time out due to feeling uncomfortable with their roommate, that would be the crux and we’d have a room conference, I’d wait a week or so, and if no changes, move some people around.

    Sure, people need to get to know gay people and learn to appreciate diversity, but not at the expense of your grades, sleeping habits, feelings of security, etc.

    You’re paying for that room, you should be able to use it as you wish, within reason, which means doing everything your straight roommate is doing- sleeping, studying, cooking ramen, playing my dream genderspecificfriend.

  17. I was an RA, and not only that but the like, ya know, “homoqueer RA” so I dealt with a lot of homo problems (I had mostly freshmen over 3 years) and I can tell you that if you have a shitty roommate that is a homophobic jerk, you should confront them at least once before you attempt to move rooms. (if you don’t want to do this alone you track down your school’s homoqueer RA and have them standing right next to you while you do this..even if you don’t know them before you ask them to do this THEY WILL DO THIS FOR YOU TRUST ME oh my god there is nothing more homoqueer RA’s hate than seeing baby homoqueers sad and crying because they don’t know anyone to help them!)

    I tell you this for two reasons:

    1. Because those jerks who are mean to homoqueers need to know it is not okay to be raging assholes in the real world.


    2. the FIRST thing your residential life folks will ask you in the name of chickering’s vectors is “did you talk to them?” And if you are able to say “yes and the behavior has not changed” it gets you that much closer to a room change.


    Repeat after me: “I am unable to concentrate on my work because of my living situation. It is interfering with my schoolwork.”

    This sets off the reslife sirens because blah blah blah “students first” “vectors” “you’re here for school!!!!!”

    I can’t guarantee that it will work on every RD, but it’s worked on all of the ones I’ve known.AND IT IS FOR REAlL. Like, no you cannot do your best when you are frustrated with your living situation, because you are devoting so much brainspace to that instead of butler and butler needs all the brain energy you can give ’em.

    Also, pro tip: don’t yell at the RD, but crying is okay. Once you yell at Reslife people they hate you and then they secretly shoot lasers at you with their eyes. Which is ridiculous, but i’m just the messenger here.

    Also, if you want to mind-ninja your Reslife team, this is their bible: now, it’s really great and helped me program for my students like I was in their minds, and it’ll help you understand why they are being so damn difficult about moving you. Also why so many girls cut their hair second semester.

  18. All of this is great advice, but nobody has brought up my personal favorite shitty roommate coping mechanism. Get THEM to move out. If your homosexuality makes your roommate or roommates uncomfortable, so be it. Keep being your out and proud self and perhaps you’ll make your idiot roomie uncomfortable enough with your own confidence, pride, and apperant self-assuruedness that they will want to move out.

    If you act like they have the disgusting social disease for being homophobic instead of the other way around, maybe, just maybe, you’ll win a small battle that is part much larger war.

  19. I had a group living situation in highschool, and a lot of the girls were homophobic. Plenty were nice too, but there were some idiots.

    ProTip: When someone announces they’d freak out if they had to live with a lesbian, because said lesbian would always be creepin’ on them in the showers and ogling their ass, the correct response is not, “No one’s going to be looking at YOU as long as Emma’s in the dorm.” As hilarious as it is, it will only mean you now have to deal with a homophobe who’s also having a mental breakdown because she’s worried she’s not pretty.

  20. Personally, I would just be really nice to any homophobic person. They’d look bad in front of all the non-homophobic people if they weren’t at least polite back.

    • Oh but in Britain I would never have to share a room just a bathroom/kitchen. If they were in the same room as me and could be horrible to me in private, I could see that strategy not really working.
      Then you just need to swap rooms, easy.

  21. “Personally, I would just be really nice to any homophobic person. They’d look bad in front of all the non-homophobic people if they weren’t at least polite back.”

    Yeah, but sometimes it’s just about feeling really uncomfortable about sharing a room with a person like that. It’s not about being polite (which I hope everyone would do, but then I’m Canadian…) I know I would feel really uncomfortable, but definitely not do the thing that the author suggested – staying away as long as possible. You end up spending too much time hiding from this person, and being downright afraid. Move if at alllllllll possible!

  22. College roomie a homophobe? Then move out.That’s what I did. It’s liberating and empowering to not have to stay with someone who makes you feel lesser than. Especially at such a critical point in your life. When you need to be focused and on point about your studies and your student life.

    My first roommate didn’t wanna room with me because I was ”weird”, so I exchanged rooms with one of her friends and moved in with her friend’s roommate who didn’t have a problem with me since we were both bookish nerds and we got along just fine. Initial roommate ( a queen B type) didn’t know what to make of it. She started off by thanking me for letting her ” hook-up” with her friend. Huh???. I ignored her.

    When she saw I was having none of it, she got angry and spread rumors that I was a snob who didn’t wanna live with her. Only the two of us knew the real reason it upset her so much -I pre-empted her and moved out before she had a chance to ask me to leave. It was messy but it proved a point. That you don’t have to take bigotry lying down.Icing on top of the cake? During my 3rd year a rumor started circulating that she and her friend had been rooming together for 3 years and had become pretty close. I swear it wasn’t me.

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