Ian Garvey didn’t know very many Donald Trump supporters before he met Tim Huff. Huff had never met a transgender person. Two weeks before Trump became president, Garvey was randomly placed in Huff’s dorm room.
Garvey moved in January 2017. At the time, the election had a heavy effect on the campus’ political climate, sparking protests and heated discussions. Oglethorpe University President Larry Schall sent a campus-wide email that invited students to a conversation at the dining hall.
“As a president of a university, who in some ways represents all constituents, I fully realize that expressing personal or political views will be viewed by some as inappropriate,” he wrote on Nov. 9, 2016, after the election. “I still find it difficult this morning to believe that the majority of voters in our country chose to elect a man whose views on civility and inclusivity are so at odds with mine and with the values of our Oglethorpe community.”
It was Garvey, though, who had a sensitive topic to broach with his roommates, Huff and two other students. He was female at birth but identifies as transgender.After the election, the climate for Garvey was tense. Trump tried to ban transgender people from enlisting in the military, for example, but that change is being held up in the courts. The Trump administration is also trying to roll back Obama-era protections that shield transgender people from healthcare discrimination.
“When I moved in, I was worried in case the trans thing would be an issue because I got to shower,” he says. “I’m not going to bind [my chest] all the time in my own living space, you know?”
Although Garvey was nervous about meeting his new roommates, he decided to let them know right away. He bought a pack of beer, sat them down and explained that he is transgender. Huff “didn’t even flinch,” says Garvey. And Huff had a confession of his own.
He is a Trump supporter.
Huff says he was very vocal about his support for Trump in his hometown of Valdosta, Georgia, but on campus, he keeps many of his political beliefs to himself.
“In a way, it was like we were coming out to each other,” Garvey says.
“You have these preconceptions,” Huff says. “‘What if he’s racist? What if he’s homophobic? What if he’s this and that?’ That does nothing for the dialogue. It shuts down the conversation where it starts.”
Although Huff reacted positively when Garvey told him that he was transgender, he still had many questions. Garvey was eager to answer them.
“A lot of typical first questions people have is just over terminology,” Garvey says. “Language is changing and that can be a lot to process.”
Huff says Garvey educated him about queer culture.
“I feel that being trans is a response to a Western binary gender system because if you look at indigenous cultures all over the world, gender diversity is a common practice,” Garvey says. “But then with colonialism, you see an erasure of those various gender identities.”
“You just showed me a lot of stuff,” Huff laughs. “You’d find out about a new thing, send it over and I would come and talk to you about it.”
Over beers on their first day as roommates, Garvey asked Huff why he’s a Trump supporter. Huff explained that he saw poverty growing up and wanted to see economic relief on a national level. He felt Trump was the person who could turn the country around. Garvey related to Huff’s distrust of the system.
“People voted for Trump because things haven’t been working and they wanted to try something different. I get that,” Garvey says.
At one point, Huff spotted a poster in the residential hall common area. It was an image of the Earth with the word “HOPE” painted across it, with people circling the planet and holding hands.
“It was very expressive of our circumstance,” Huff says.
Huff took the poster from the common area and put up in their room.
“I like how explaining my beliefs to someone who didn’t know a lot about them helped me understand my own position more,” Garvey says.
Garvey, now 22, wants to address homelessness, job discrimination, access to healthcare and other issues that LGBTQ youths face in his future activism.
Meanwhile, Huff has spent the last year recovering from a car accident, with the help of a service dog and Garvey’s support. Huff, 19, is on track to graduate with a business degree and non-profit minor; he wants to bring industry back to Valdosta and support his hometown.
“You’ll find that you might have more in common with the other person than you think,” Garvey says. “Tim and I both want to uplift our communities, but we have different ways of going about it.”
This story originally appeared on NPR's NextGen Radio.