Quarantining while queer

Opinion by Vianna Vo and Marissa Floro
May 14, 2020, 11:59 p.m.

As winter quarter came to a close, none of us expected to be leaving campus without a clue as to when we’d return. The ongoing waves of uncertainty, ever-changing updates and indefinite cancellation of campus life affected all of us. Some of us lost our access to campus jobs and income for ourselves and our families. Some of us lost access to consistent and nutritious food. Some of us lost dependable shelter and access to facilities. All of us lost our campus communities. 

For many in the queer and gender expansive community (an umbrella term for gender identities that do not fall within the traditional gender binary), the call to leave campus meant returning home — not only to a place, but to a time when we had to compromise or hide who we are. It’s a return fraught with anxiety and fear surrounding our sense of well-being and authenticity. How should I present myself to my family? Is it safe to wear x, y and z? Can I talk to my family about my partner(s)? Do I have to change the way I talk, the things I talk about, the things I’m interested in? For gender non-conforming students specifically, returning home can mean enduring a barrage of misgendering and dead-naming, practices that erode the core of an individual’s identity. 

Going home while queer can bring up a host of emotions depending on circumstances at home. For some, it means going back in the closet to stay safe. Being “in the closet” can often feel like holding your breath, unable to breathe and move freely without alerting family of your true identity. You learn to hold two identities: the “you” your family knows and accepts, and the “you” your trusted others respect and love. Identity-switching can become burdensome and draining as you juggle pleasing your family and protecting your own well-being. 

COVID-19 amplifies these daily stressors, especially for students living in states that have implemented shelter-in-place orders. Living in a quarantined household offers no reprieve from the daily aggressions and microaggressions that students may face from their families. Dealing with these aggressions can feel even more draining when cut off from chosen families and supportive communities that campus provided. Being back in a space that’s invalidating, without the supportive connection of friends, can make folks feel trapped, hopeless, helpless and isolated. 

Even for those who are out to their families, it can be challenging to navigate family and cultural dynamics. Well-meaning family members may still need ongoing explanations on why pronouns are important, reminders to use appropriate names and words, and rationalizations of choices from hairstyles to clothing to food choices. These could also come up against family expectations, cultural values and spiritual beliefs. This continuous education and defense can be exhausting and take up a lot of emotional and mental space, leaving little left over for things like class, staying active and talking with friends. 

For some in the queer community, going home is not an option exactly because of these challenges and others more severe. Some folks have been able to stay on campus, but at a cost. Though still connected to shelter and resources, campus is a ghost town and the communities that felt like family are scattered across the world. How do you pay for meal plans if a huge amount of jobs and opportunities have been canceled? How do you access things while being stuck on campus?

Further, for some, COVID-19 has meant being pushed out of a community of belonging into a world where they do not have a familial safety net or the option of staying on campus. This is particularly true for the queer community, whose members are more likely to have severed relationships with their family. For these folks, sheltering in place has brought extra questions to consider: Who can I trust? Who can I ask to stay with without being a burden? How can I afford living off campus without financial support? Difficult choices like these only compound as shelter in place extends, financial opportunities are canceled and support remains limited.

If the preceding paragraphs resonate with your own experiences, there are still ways to survive and thrive as you have been able to do thus far. In times like this, it is important to uphold and preserve the parts of yourself that matter most. Find the things that bring joy to you and make you feel like your truest self: Keep them close. Listen to your favorite song, wear your favorite jacket, watch your favorite movie. Continue to stay connected to media, entertainment, people who affirm your identities. If it is not safe for you to express yourself and communicate in these ways, try sharing these with a trusted person over video calling, texts or email. Keep digital or physical reminders of the people and spaces that support your full self. 

This reminder of self-care and grounding may not be enough. Stanford still has multiple services online, and they are eager to help (links below). You can access individual therapy, check-ins and consultations with CAPS and the Weiland Health Initiative. You can ask a Weiland Health Associate for help in connecting to resources for queer students. You can still connect with other queer students through QSR or join a peer-led discussion group, “Still Here, Still Queer.” There are a host of other virtual resources all compiled in one place for you to find support, connection and community.

As the days blend together, we must find the thread that weaves throughout time and brings together our sense of who we were, who we are and who we want to be. Though we must write from afar, our thoughts and love are with you, always.


Vianna Vo (she/her), Weiland health associate 2019-20
Marissa Floro (she/her), Ph.D., Weiland program manager

Contact Vianna Vo at viannavo ‘at’ stanford.edu and Marissa Floro at mfloro ‘at’ stanford.edu.



Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS): We know that the COVID-19 situation is causing significant change and potential anxiety and distress for our community.  This is an unprecedented event, and CAPS is committed to supporting students wherever they may be.

  • 24/7 mental health support is available for Stanford students by calling the CAPS number: 650-723-3785.
  • In an effort to comply with the recent order to shelter in place, telehealth video visits are available, but ONLY for students who are in California. Phone check-ins to discuss a plan for your care needs are available to all students, regardless of location.   For tips on doing a telehealth visits, please review this guide. (TeleHealth Visit Tips Guide)
  • CAPS is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday, to meet in person with students who are in crisis and whose needs cannot be met via telehealth or phone support. We ask all students to call CAPS (650-723-3785) before coming in person so we can discuss how best to meet your mental health needs while also protecting your physical health and safety.
  • Access coordinators are available by phone for students seeking new services/resources.
  • CAPS is glad to assist students in finding care resources in their home communities.
  • For students who are already connected to a CAPS provider, please know that you can send your provider a secure message through the Vaden Student Portal for any non-urgent issues.

CAPS urges you to attend to your emotional and mental well-being, and to reach out to us for support during these challenging times.

Weiland Health Initiative seeks to promote mental health and wellness across the spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations through education, training and clinical services at Stanford and beyond. Our hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday. An option for telehealth services (via Zoom) is available for students who are in California. If you are outside of California, Weiland staff are currently offering 15-20 minute phone check-ins; not true therapy, but rather, a short phone conversation to see how you are doing. If you are outside of California, Weiland staff may also be able to help you get connected with a local provider. You can set up a Weiland Connects visit or ask your Weiland provider questions via secure message on the Vaden Patient Portal.

Ask a WHA (Weiland Health Associate) is an online support service for non-clinical LGBTQ+ mental health questions. Get answers to questions related to accessing queer wellness, support, and mental health resources off campus. Questions will be sent to the Weiland Health Associate (WHA) team and acknowledged by email within 48 hours. We will then be in touch via your preferred method of communication with resources or ideas for support. The WHA team is comprised of two student workers who have great interest in supporting queer students and their wellness all the time, but especially now. We have been WHAs since the fall and have access to information that hopefully will be supportive to you in this time. If you have any questions concerning privacy or accessibility, please contact Jay (they/them/theirs) at [email protected] or Vianna (she/her/hers) at [email protected].

Queer Student Resources has moved online for the quarter! We (QSR directors) are available for video, phone, and text chats. (Please note that Danny is out on parental leave, but you can reach them when they return mid-quarter!). Please check our website for more updated information.

Taylor: Mondays 12-2 p.m. PT and by appointment [email protected]

Ben: Thursdays 1-3 p.m. PT and by appointment [email protected]   

Still Here, Still Queer is a peer-lead discussion group co-sponsored by QSR and the Weiland Health Initiative. We meet to talk about challenges unique to being a queer person sheltering in place, on or off campus, and to learn about and share tools and skills from other folks in similar circumstances. Still Here, Still Queer is a peer-lead discussion group co-sponsored by QSR and the Weiland Health Initiative. It is not a therapeutic support group nor meant to replace any form of clinical therapy.

Virtual Support Center is a new mental health and well-being website developed by Vaden Health Services in response to COVID-19. This site features resources and tips for students, as well as a spring 2020 adaptation of the popular Stanford Red Folder, including this downloadable version

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