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We talked with LGBT college students and what we learned surprised us

June 7, 2017

You can’t open a magazine, newspaper or website without seeing a story about how Millennials are changing the world. Unfortunately, too much of the coverage is too negative and often falsely based on stereotypes. Like all of us, Millennials are a product of the time and place from which they come, and that’s a good thing.

Millennials started coming of age when the Dot-com bubble burst, during 9/11, and through the start and duration of the 2008 housing crisis and subsequent Great Recession. It’s through this lens manufactured by the generations before them that Millennials see the world.

The era from which Millennials come may be why many today are focusing on the same things on which many GenXer’s today are focusing. Many millennials wish to give value and leave a legacy first and worry about profit and wealth second. These experiences may also inform why Millennials are more comfortable with being open about their sexual orientation and gender identities and more accepting of others being who they are.

We had the fortunate opportunity of speaking to the University of Akron’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Union (LGBTU) last month. Our mission was to inspire its members, only different from us by age, not to make the same financial mistakes we made after we graduated college. If we can help queer Millennials avoid the financial pitfalls we made, we can help position them better for personal financial success and to become leaders in the queer community, their industries, and society.

The students we met inspired us.

Millennials will change business as usual
The students we met are more concerned with adding value to people and society and less about only adding value to the bottom line. It’s not that the two are mutually exclusive. It’s that traditional business will need to adapt or risk losing both employees and customers. And, business doesn’t like being forced to change.

The world is still heavily influenced by Baby Boomers, and GenXers may be in charge, but Millennials are currently our largest generation. Their size has influence. Millennials will change the world. If older generations want their wisdom and experience to help guide that change, they’ll have to meet Millennials halfway.

While business is still figuring out what diversity and inclusion looks like, Millennials expect companies for whom they work and with whom they do business to include diversity and inclusion, including LGBT, policies and practices. Likewise, they expect business to be socially responsible and environmentally conscious.

Business leaders who wish to continue leading would do well to master the art of talking with, engaging with, and understanding Millennials. For example, one-fifth of Millennials identify as queer. When a job candidate arrives for an interview and all the interviewer sees is a 20-year-old trans person, the interviewer is missing an opportunity for growth. They’re dismissing someone who is a part of a key demographic for advertisers, someone who likely understands social media and technology in a way they don’t and, also, someone who’s a part of another demographic with nearly $1 trillion in purchasing power.

Millennials are money
It could be because Millennials watched their parents suffer through the 2008 housing crisis, subsequent Great Recession, stagnant wages, high unemployment, and low national gross domestic product (GDP) that they are more financially astute than they’re given credit for having. Research shows that Millennials have a better grasp on money than the media portrays and maybe even more so than previous generations at their age.

Millennial money expert, and author and creator of the Cash Confidence Challenge, Stefanie O’Connell shares, “The millennial narrative typically focuses on the less than ideal circumstances that surround millennials’ coming of age – the recession, skyrocketing student loan debt, stagnant wages and rising living costs. While these challenges have undoubtedly shaped Millennials’ financial realities, they have also inspired new kinds of financial engagement and important shifts in their financial outlook. For example, Millennials are at the forefront of the push to create technologies and apps that allow easier, simplified and lower cost access to financial resources like investing and financial advice.”

The LGBT students with whom we met showed an interest in and an understanding of money and their financial success. They asked questions about how to prioritize paying for student loans. They wanted to know more about saving and investing. They’re thinking creatively about how to navigate today’s economy.

They want to be financially successful but are also not willing to forsake their passions and personalities to obtain it. They see financial success and their desire to benefit the world as congruent paths, and sometimes the same.

Queer millennials will be influential
This engagement and curiosity stem from being a part of a culture of survival. Queer people must often rely on themselves to survive. University of Akron’s LGBT Unions advisor, David A.E. Marsteller, says, “Having spent over a decade working as a financial aid professional, I am all-too-painfully aware of the unique financial challenges facing many LGBT students in funding their education. For example, though they make up 10% of the general population, studies show LGBT youth (15-25 years old) making up 30-40% of homeless youth. They are also similarly over-represented as youth in and aging out of the foster-care system. Families often withdraw emotional and financial support when they find out that their student doesn’t necessarily have the sexual orientation or gender identity that they ‘expect’ of them.”

Despite this background, or maybe despite it, the students we met are determined to become financially independent. They’re focused on making the world a better, friendlier and more just place. With their majors ranging from social work to forestry and engineering to business, this focus on personal and community betterment dictated their decisions despite the struggles they face.

Marsteller continues, “Though it does occur that families reconcile their personal differences with their sexual minority/gender non-conforming student, I have yet to see a family re-assume financial support, once withdrawn, at a level similar to what the student was receiving previously, or what the student’s cis-gender, heterosexual siblings receive. I’m not sure what dynamics cause this to happen this way, but, in my two decades of volunteer professional experience working with these students, this is how things seem to go.”

Sadly, negative news sells. It’s heartening to know that the stereotypes of Millennials in the news don’t often fit reality. As members of a class that is often stereotyped, it’s still easy to forget that there’s more that meets the eye. Today’s college students will be more personally, financially and professionally successful than media and society publicly predicts. They will be integral in helping build a stronger queer community.

This article was written by John Schneider and David Auten from Forbes and is by Bloomberg.