LGBTQ Friendly Colleges & Student Resources

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Creating a Welcoming Campus and Community

Attending college can be difficult, but lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students may have an even harder time than others. The following guide was created to help LGBTQ students understand how many campuses are helping to make the college experience more welcoming and supportive.

Meet the Experts

  • Larry Lariosa, M.A.

    Director, LGBT Resource Center Office of Diversity and Outreach

    University of California, San Francisco
  • Craig Leets, Jr.

    Coordinator, Queer Resource Center
    Enrollment Management & Student Affairs

    Portland State University


College is stressful. Every student faces challenges; some of which are common among peers, and others that are more individual. LGBTQ students, for example, have a unique set of challenges to consider. Fortunately, more and more schools are working to make their campuses, traditional and online, more inclusive. This guide takes a look at those colleges and universities leading the way in providing curricula and resources to support LGBTQ students throughout their college experience. Information on resources, curricula, and student organizations is provided, as well as candid interviews with LGBTQ community leaders to help alleviate some of the worries that LGBTQ students may have when it comes to postsecondary education.

Most LGBTQ-Friendly Universities 2015-16

LGBTQ students are looking for universities that promote safe and enriching environments to learn, grow, and participate within their community. The universities listed below have made exceptional strides towards creating a LGBTQ friendly environment by meeting the following criteria: (1) LGBTQ student club/organization, (2) gender inclusive dorms, (3) an affirmative declaration of LGBTQ inclusion policies, (4) LGBT health/counseling services, (5) and has LGBTQ/Gender studies programs available. The schools were then scored according to retention and graduation rate. Discover below who is leading the United States for LGBTQ students in higher education.

AC OnlineSCORE: 99.43

The University of Chicago is home to the Howard Brown Health Center, one of the country’s largest health care organizations catering to the LGBT community. The center provides a variety of services, including primary health care, HIV/STD prevention, youth and elderly care, counseling, and social services. The school’s LGBTQ Studies Project is dedicated to advancing queer studies and training students to become researchers. Students enrolled at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business have access to a number of LGBT programs, including Reaching Out’s Annual LGBT MBA Conference and the Out for Undergraduate Business Conference.

AC OnlineSCORE: 98.26

Stanford University’s LGBT Community Resources Center, a part of the school’s student affairs department, provides students with a welcoming place to meet fellow students and learn more about the community. Students can peruse magazines, academic journals and arts publications celebrating the LGBT community and also have access to an LGBT relevant film collection. In addition to providing mentors for students seeking extra support, the school’s Vaden Health Center offers special services to transgender students, including medical care, mental health counseling, and sexual health education. Vaden also provides information to students who are interested in undergoing gender-related surgery.

AC OnlineSCORE: 97.88

The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus is home to the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, which offers several programs designed to promote diversity. Ross Out for Business is an association for LGBT students to participate in social activities, receive mentoring services and attend off-campus recruiting events. Ann Arbor students can also receive support and information from the school’s Spectrum Center, which organizes events such as the LGBTQ Ally Development Training and the My Voice speaker’s program. Students can also receive information on specific services for LGBT students of minority ethnicities, as well as details on how to report a bias incident or hate crime.

AC OnlineSCORE: 97.87

The LGBT Resource Center at Cornell University was founded in 1994 and serves as the epicenter of LGBT student life for both undergraduates and graduates. The center offers a number of events and services, including the First Year Queer Connections Group, the Safer People/Safer Places network, the Lavender Graduation, and an LGBTQ mentorship program. Straight students who support the LGBT community, known by the center as Allies, are welcome to be involved in events. Cornell also provides health services for transgender students, including medical care, counseling services, and information for students considering gender transition.

AC OnlineSCORE: 97.83

Since 2004, Brown University’s LGBTQ Center has provided social events, educational programs, training services, and advocacy to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning students. The Renn Mentoring Program allows LGBTQ students to connect with faculty members who identify as part of the community, while the Queer Alliance participates in community outreach activities. The General LGBTQ Support Group was created to make services available for those who need support with their gender identity or sexual orientation. Brown also has health services for LGBTQ students, including STI testing, counseling and psychological services. Student athletes identifying as LGBTQ also have a specific support group available to them.

AC OnlineSCORE: 96.83

The University of California-Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center, or GenEq, is dedicated to promoting diversity among students, alumni, faculty, and staff. A number of resources, education programs and services are available to the Berkeley community, including workshops, counseling, and medical services tailored to the needs of LGBT students. Some of the workshops available include Transgender 101 and Beyond the Gender Binary. Berkeley also has an LGBT sorority, a group for Jewish members of the community, and a residence hall for students enrolled in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender studies minor.

The University of Maryland at College Park offers a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies minor through the Department of Women’s Studies. This program educates students about the LGBT experience, as well as theories related to sexual and gender identity. The school’s LGBT Equity Center provides support for the community, offering the Rainbow Terrapin Network for students interested in being trained in social justice activities. The center also has a number of educational initiatives for those who want to learn more about transgender issues and gender identity theory. The College Park’s health center offers a number of resources for LGBT students.

AC OnlineSCORE: 95.75

Established in 1992, the LGBT campus center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is dedicated to creating a strong community of LGBT students through outreach, education, resources, and advocacy. The center’s Queer Emerging Leaders Program allows undergraduates to engage with members of the community as they participate in activities that build leadership skills. A mentor program is also available, which provides support to students seeking understanding about gender identity and how to come out. Madison students can also participate in workshops on various topics, such as how to become an ally to the LGBT community, and gender identity and expression.

The University of California-San Diego’s critical gender studies undergraduate degrees allows students to learn about issues related to sexuality and gender through courses in art and sexuality, gender theory, and sexuality and race. In addition to providing a program addressing LGBT issues, the school also has services for members of the community. LGBT students have access to the health services center and trained counselors that can address specific needs and concerns. The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center provides services and education to students and organizes events throughout the year, including a pride parade.

AC OnlineSCORE: 95

The Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life at Emory University hosts a number of services for LGBT students. Four discussion groups for specific subsections of the community are available, including the Trans-Forming Gender Group, the Queer and Asian Group, the Bisexual/Pansexual Group, and the Black and Queer Group. There are also events hosted by the department, such as a pride parade, drag show and the annual pride awards ceremony. The school’s Safe Space program provides training for students, faculty and staff who would like to learn about ways to support Emory’s LGBT population.

Pennsylvania State University’s main campus offers a minor in sexuality and gender studies, empowering undergraduates to learn about sexuality and gender theory, the relationship between gender identity and art, LGBT social movements, and queer theory. LGBT students can receive support on campus through the school’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally (LGBTQA) student resource center. Founded in 1994, the center offers discussion groups, mentoring, leadership retreats, and scholarships for LGBTQ students. The school also meets the unique needs of transgender students with a variety of programs offered by the health services center, including hormonal therapy treatments.

AC OnlineSCORE: 94.7

The University of California in Irvine has a long-standing dedication to diversity and continually works to ensure all students feel welcome and safe on campus. In keeping with this tradition, LGBT students benefit from the LGBT Resource Center. Through the center, students can participate in workshops and programs, such as National Coming Out Week, Queer History Week and the Queer Talks conversation series. Irvine also has gender neutral bathrooms, HIV testing, LGBTQA housing, and mentoring services for LGBT students. For those who want to formally study LGBT issues, the school’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Department offers courses on sexuality.

AC OnlineSCORE: 93.62

LGBT students at New York University find a welcoming environment at the school’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Student Center, which is dedicated to providing services, education and advocacy to students and faculty members interested in understanding issues the community faces. The Quench series is a regular queer discussion and lunch program where students share ideas with each other. The Center also hosts socials for LGBT graduate students and a queer film series, as well as programs for those who support the community. NYU has unique health services for transgender students, including hormone therapy, social services and HIV testing and counseling.

AC OnlineSCORE: 93.63

Michigan State University’s Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender Resource Center organizes events and provides programs and services for the community. The center is known for hosting the Color Me Queer discussiongGroup and is home to a LBGTQ library. The Center also works with MSU administration to ensure school policies are LGBT friendly and students are receiving the support they need. Some ways the school has helped the community include creating housing for transgender students; forming the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Faculty, Staff, and Graduate student Association; and supporting TransAction, a student organization.

AC OnlineSCORE: 93.21

In order to support the needs of its LGBT students, Ithaca College created the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services in 2001. The Center organizes a number of events for students, including the Out of the Closet and Onto the Screen film series, the Rainbow Reception, the Welcome Back social, and the Gay Prom. During the school’s LGBT awareness month, students can participate in discussion groups and workshops about issues impacting the community. Sstudents can also study issues related to the LGBT community by taking courses through the women’s and gender studies program.

AC OnlineSCORE: 92.1

Undergraduate students at the University of Oregon have the option to minor in queer studies, allowing them to take coursework focused on topics like transgender history, gay legal issues, queer literature, and the relationship between sexuality and medical ethics. Offered by the school’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, this program is the only queer studies minor available in Oregon. The university also supports LGBT students through its LGBT education and support services program. One of the popular services offered is OutList, a directory of LGBTQIA students, faculty and alumni who want to connect with each other.

AC OnlineSCORE: 91.98

The LGBT student development program at Towson University supports all members of the LGBTQIA community on campus through social, leadership, mentorship, internship, and educational outreach programs. Those who want to learn more about issues LGBTQIA students face can attend Towson’s SpeakOUT Speakers Bureau program. The school also has LGBT internships for students to gain vital hands-on work experience and course credit. Students who want to enjoy lunch while watching movies or reading magazines among their peers can visit the Rainbow Lounge, which also features a resource library. Towson’s counseling center also offers services to LGBT students seeking emotional support.

AC OnlineSCORE: 91.57

The LGBT population has unique health issues, and Montclair State University has responded to those needs by offering special services to the LGBTQ community. In recent years, the school’s Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) has started covering hormone therapy treatments for transgender students, as well as gender surgery. Montclair’s counseling center has therapists who specialize in LGBT issues and topics, while the LGBTQ Center offers a space for students to connect with other members of the community as they engage in fun activities and learn more about LGBT issues. Through the center, students can participate in discussion groups, workshops and a pride awards program.

AC OnlineSCORE: 90.63

To ensure that all students are treated fairly and feel welcome on campus, Western Washington University created the President’s Taskforce on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity. As a result, all groups on campus, including LGBT students, are taken into consideration when creating policies and planning each degree program’s curriculum. This effort is reflected in the school’s women, gender and sexuality studies minor, where students focus their education on sexuality and gender identity topics. Western Washington University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Advocacy Council provides programs and meetings designed to further support LGBT students.

AC OnlineSCORE: 90.11

LGBT students who are confused about their sexuality, need help coming out to their friends and family, or are experiencing stress and anxiety because they’re being mistreated can receive both indivual and group therapy at Grand Valley State University’s counseling center. The school further supports LGBT students through its Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center. One of the most popular programs is the Lavender graduation ceremony, where LGBT students listen to keynote speakers, receive recognition for their achievements, and enjoy a reception. The center is also a one-stop shop for LGBT student resources and information.

AC OnlineSCORE: 89.87

Offered through the Center for Comparative and Integrative Programs, Kent State University offers a minor in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies. Students in this program take interdisciplinary courses that explore different aspects of gender identity and sexuality. Kent’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion provides further support to members of the LGBT community on campus. When students are looking for services to meet their unique needs, they can refer to the center’s comprehensive directory of support programs available on and off campus.

AC OnlineSCORE: 89.44

In order to promote acceptance for all students on campus, the University of Louisville implemented the 2020 Plan to stress the importance of diversity, opportunity and social justice. The school opened its LGBT center in 2007, offering students the chance to participate in a number of programs including a pride week celebration, SpeakOut discussion panels, and Monday Mixers. To further promote the tenets of the 2020 Plan, the school created the Bayard Rustin LGBT and social justice living community, encouraging LGBT students to live among members of the community.

AC OnlineSCORE: 88.79

The University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee is dedicated to creating a welcoming campus for members of the LGBT community, as well as the allies who support them. The school operates the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Resource Center, where students can receive social and emotional support while becoming more educated about issues of importance in the LGBT community. The Center offers the Safe Space program, which was created as a safe area for LGBT students, staff and faculty members to engage in thoughtful dialogue with one another. There are also a number of workshops and social programs available at the center throughout the academic year.

Creating a Safe Space

6 in 10 students report feeling unsafe at school
because of their sexual orientation

One of the most important aspects of college life is to allow students the opportunity not just to earn a marketable degree and learn about the broader world through coursework, but to also deepen their understanding of themselves through exploration and interaction with the world around them. The best LGBTQ-friendly colleges provide the services and resources necessary to encourage the personal and intellectual growth of its students. The following is a list of some of the policies, practices, and programs that make today’s colleges more inclusive for both on-site and online students:

  • LGBT/Queer Resource Centers

    In an effort to provide LGBT students with the unique support and resources they need to be successful throughout college—and post graduation—many colleges and universities now have dedicated LGBT resource centers. These centers are a safe space where LGBT students can seek information, support, and culturally sensitive care. Many centers organize campus events and activities to help foster a strong sense of community, as well as promote awareness and wellness for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression.

  • There are currently nearly 200 colleges and universities in the United States with LGBT support centers or services.

    Source: Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, Inc.

  • Online Social Media Programs and Discussion Groups

    Many schools offer online forums where students can connect with each other and discuss topics of current interest or issues within the LGBTQ community. These online discussion groups are confidential and allow members to participate whether they are out or not.

  • Faculty and Staff Education Programs

    LGBTQ students will tell you that well-informed and understanding instructors and other faculty and staff can mean the difference between success and failure in college. The most forward-thinking schools are aware of this and offer their employees orientation and training courses on subjects pertinent to its LGBTQ student population. Additionally, it is equally important to ensure a safe and accepting work environment for the school’s LGBTQ faculty and staff members.

  • Special On-Campus or Campus-Sponsored Housing Options

    Providing comfortable and safe living accommodations for all students is a top priority for any college or university. For LGBTQ students, that often means housing options that are specifically designated and set aside for them. The forms that these housing options take are varied and can include everything from traditional individual or shared dormitory rooms to suite-style apartments to gender-neutral accommodations with open-style living environments. According to Campus Pride, there are currently 159 colleges and universities in the United States offering gender-inclusive housing (housing that allows students to have roommates of any gender). In addition, these special housing options are often extended to online students for overnight and short-term campus visits.

    Regardless of whether or not gender-inclusive or other special housing options are made available, under Title IX, colleges and universities with on-campus or campus-sponsored housing are prohibited from discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including transgender students.

  • LGBTQ-Themed Campus Events

    A great way to engender community pride and participation is to sponsor campus social programs and events. The types and forms these events take varies from school to school. A good example of a typical slate of LGBTQ campus-sponsored events is provided by the University of Southern California:

    • August: Welcome Back Barbeque; Welcome Back Dance Party
    • October: National Coming Out Month; OutList
    • November: Gender Justice Week
    • December: World AIDS Day Tribute
    • March: Pridefest
    • April: Generation Queer “GQ” Leadership Retreat; Second Chance Prom; Lavender Commencement Celebration & Scholarship Reception

    Events are often open to the general student population with many open to the surrounding community at large. For online LGBTQ students, these events provide a great opportunity to visit their campuses to network and have fun with their on-campus counterparts.

  • LGBTQ Faculty and Peer Mentoring Programs

    Peer mentoring programs pair incoming students with LGBTQ faculty members or upperclassmen who can provide tremendous help with the often difficult adjustment to college life, whether on-campus or online. Mentors offer advice in a range of areas including academics and personal, social, and career goals.

Campus Pride Index

Campus Pride is the leading national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer environment for LGBT college students. An excellent resource offered by Campus Pride is its LGBT-Friendly Campus Pride Index, which is used to measure and promote LGBT quality of life on college and university campuses, as well as help postsecondary institutions become more LGBT-friendly. Campus Pride uses the term “LGBT-friendly” to denote “an environment that is more inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

According to the Campus Pride Index, the following eight factors contribute to an overall LGBTQ-friendly college environment:

All eight factors receive an equal weight when determining a program’s overall score. To learn more about the index and review its findings, visit:

What Do Experts Say?

Interview with Craig Leets, Jr.

Craig Leets, Jr. is the Coordinator of the Queer Resource Center at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. Craig earned his Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with a minor in Leadership and Organizational Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California before completing his M.A. in Counseling and Personnel Services with a focus in College Student Personnel at the University of Maryland, College Park. While working on his master’s, Craig was employed by UMD as a Resident Director, where he worked on gender-inclusive housing, an inclusive language campaign, and a coming out support group for students. Prior to coming to PSU in October 2013 to lead the QRC, Craig worked at Penn State University as the Assistant Director for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Ally (LGBTA) Student Resource Center.

What are some of the issues that prospective LGBTQ students should be thinking about when choosing a college or college program?

The things that LGBT students are thinking about when they go to college are what we would encourage them to think about. Location is one. Do they want to go away from home? Are they staying at home? Geographic region matters. Online students can study from anywhere, so it probably matters less to them. But for students going to brick-and-mortar institutions, it matters. Urban areas are often more LGBT-friendly than rural areas, so that is one of the subjects we would encourage students to think about.

I would also encourage an LGBT student to determine the extent to which there is a community on campus. For some LGBT students, being part of a community is really important, and some institutions don’t have a community at all, or they have a really thriving and robust community.

For some students, the level of outness is an issue. Some students may not be out to their families. So, the question is: Do they want to go and be out at college and what will that mean? Or, how will that affect their experience? Often we have a lot of first-year students who are not out at home and come to campus and they’re really celebrated and able to be out. Then at Winter break, they want to go home and come out to their families. And we often want to have a conversation about how that might affect their relationships or funding to go to school. So that might be something to think more about.

I think the resources available to LGBT students are also things we would encourage students to take a look at. The number of LGBT centers on campuses is like 200 to 250, as compared to thousands of institutions. And sometimes it’s not just about having a center–it’s about the school’s policies or housing options. So, for example, if a student’s family insists that they attend a school nearby or opt for an online program, the lack of on-campus resources might be a good reason for choosing the online option.

Have you had students that come into your office and tell you that they are thinking about an online program?

I don’t see a whole lot of prospective students. Most of the students we interact with here are already enrolled. I think we have a number of students who do a combination of online and in-class courses or they will move from taking classes on campus to a term exclusively online. And that could be for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s finances; sometimes they just have other things going on in their lives. One thing in particular that I do know of specifically for trans or transgender people, sometimes when they are going through their transition, they don’t want to be on campus and transitioning at the same time. Online education offers the opportunity to transition while still going to school.

If a prospective LGBTQ student came to you and asked about choosing a college or program, what would be your single best piece of advice?

I would say to the person, “Find a place where you can be you and decide what those things are that are the most important to you.” For some people, a big thriving community with a lot of social opportunities is important. For others, activism might be more important. For other folks, they just want to go to school and being out and being visible is not the most important thing to them. So, I would just really encourage the student to look into those schools where they feel like they can be themselves and are able to meet the goals that they have.

LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum

Possibly the best method of encouraging acceptance and promoting a safe learning environment on college campuses for LGBTQ students is through the development of LGBTQ-inclusive curricula. The reasoning is simple. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals have made major contributions in science, industry and the arts and culture throughout history, but have rarely been acknowledged for their accomplishments. Adding that history to academic programs, along with lessons concerning current LGBTQ issues, engenders an atmosphere of acceptance and could also help LGBTQ students feel like they belong.

There are two major forms that LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum additions can take:


The development of lesson plans in all fields of study that avoid bias and include positive representations of LBGTQ individuals, history, and current issues and events.


The addition of degree programs (majors and minors), certificate programs, and individual courses covering subjects such as gender, sexuality, diversity, and queer history/culture.

LGBTQ Studies, as you might expect, concerns the study of issues relating to gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual identity, particularly in regard to individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning. LBGTQ Studies covers a lot of ground and includes the fields of history, philosophy, political science, biology, sociology, ethics, psychology, and many others. LGBTQ Studies can trace its origins back to the early 1970’s and a smattering of lesbian and gay studies programs at a small number of colleges and universities, including the University of California, Berkeley. The next few decades witnessed a slow but steady growth in degree and certificate programs with broadly defined subject titles such as Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, etc., offered mostly by more progressive-minded liberal arts colleges and universities.

Today, LGBTQ-related degree and certificate programs are offered by dozens of colleges and universities, both public and private, throughout the nation. These programs take a number of forms including degrees with a LGBTQ Studies major, degrees with major titles such as Gender Studies, Cultural Studies and Human Sexuality with minor or emphasis options in LGBTQ Studies, and certificates with titles such as LGBT Health and LGBT-Affirmative Psychology.

Here are a few examples of real postsecondary academic programs currently offered in the LGBTQ field:

  • B.A. LGBT Studies

    This is one of a very few number of bachelor degrees offered with a major in LGBT Studies, as most colleges with LGBT Studies programs offer only minors or concentrations in the subject. The B.A. in LGBT Studies is designed to advance knowledge in sexual and gender identity, and increase understanding of the diverse cultural, historic, ethnic, and contemporary experiences of people across sexualities. Upper division courses include Lesbian and Gay Identities in the Modern World, and Lesbian and Gay History and Culture. LGBT internships are available and provide opportunities to work in local public and private agencies serving LGBT populations and working toward LGBT equality.

  • B.A. Feminist Studies with LGBTQ Studies Minor

    This bachelor’s degree program explores the ways in which gender–as it intersects with race, class ethnicity, sexuality, nationality and other differences–shapes and is shaped by social, economic, political, and other cultural forces and institutions. The LBGTQ Studies minor is designed to provide a comprehensive and interdisciplinary examination of the lives, experiences, and identities of LGBTQ individuals, their families and communities, cultures and subcultures, histories, institutions and more. A degree with this major/minor combination can be used in preparation for careers in fields such as law, social services, public policy, the arts, teaching and many others, as well as to prepare for graduate study in the social sciences or humanities.

  • M.A. in Sexuality Studies

    This master’s program offers graduate students a rigorous curriculum in the social science of sexuality with a strong focus on social theory and social research methods. The program does not provide for a specific emphasis in any particular subject, but students may elect to take any number of LGBTQ-related courses in the completion of the degree requirements. Course titles include: Perspectives in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies; Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual History; Queer Art History; Introduction to Transgender Studies; and LGBT Sexuality and Health.

  • PhD in Gender Studies

    Doctorate programs with the specific LGBTQ title are still non-existent at present. One leading Midwestern public university, however, offers a PhD in Gender Studies. This program explores the social processes, cultural representations, relations of power, and forms of knowledge that generate a range of gendered perspectives and experience. Core courses include: Concepts of Gender; Contemporary Debates in Feminist Theory; and Researching Gender Issues. Elective courses offered include: Cultural Politics and Twentieth Century Sexuality; Contested Masculinities; and Sexualized Genders/Gendered Sexualities.

LGBTQ Students and Online Education

Probably the single biggest trend in postsecondary education over the last decade has been the explosion of online degrees offered by well-established and accredited colleges and universities throughout the United States. These schools are quickly recognizing the tremendous demand for quality online learning options among an ever-busier and employed student population. What has yet to be fully explored is the influence of online colleges on the LGBTQ student community. Many experts believe that the factors considered most important by prospective LGBTQ students in choosing an online program over a more traditional on-campus program are the same as the general student population, but there may be additional, more unique motivating factors. The following sections discuss the current online education environment and how it effects–and is affected by–the needs and preferences of LGBTQ students.

Student Profiles

Students, regardless of sexual orientation, choose to pursue online learning for a variety of personal reasons. Every student is different, each with his or her own specific requirements for college success. Below are a few examples of circumstances in which an online learning environment may be more ideal for an LGBTQ student.

The Geographically Isolated Student

In this scenario, “geographically isolated” means a location prohibitively distant from an LGBTQ-friendly campus. Many LGBTQ students find that moving away from an isolated town to a more accepting urban setting can make a world of difference. There is no doubt that certain areas of the country are well known for being more progressive than others. Some students, however, may be unable to relocate to these areas due to financial limitations, family obligations, or a number of other personal reasons. For these students, finding a college or university with quality online education and an LGBTQ-inclusive reputation may be the next best option.

The Education-Focused Student

For many students, the social aspect of college is as important as attending class. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Attending college on an established campus can be incredibly enriching. For some students, though, anything that takes away from their academic focus is to be avoided. Some LGBTQ students may feel pressure to become actively involved in on-campus political causes and social events when they just want to focus their energy on completing their degree. Online education allows those students to prioritize their studies and stay focused in a way that works best for them.

The Student with
Limited Major Options

Students may be limited to a small number of major options at their local college or university, particularly those in more rural areas. More specific to LGBTQ students, those options may be limited to schools with a less-than-welcoming environment or non-existent LGBTQ community. In such cases, an online degree program may provide the best solution, allowing class attendance and participation in an atmosphere where sexual orientation or gender identity will not be an issue.

Top Intended College Majors Among LGBT Students Planning to Pursue Postsecondary Education (By Percentage)

LGBTQ Students and Online Learning

Interview with Larry Lariosa

Larry D. Lariosa, MA, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, as well as the Diversity Program Manager and LGBT Specialist at the University of California San Francisco’s Office of Diversity and Outreach. In the following brief interview, Mr. Lariosa offers insight into online education and the LGBTQ community, along with some helpful advice for LGBTQ students considering an online college program.

How has online education been helpful for the LGBTQ community?

You know, I’m a therapist and I look at situations through the lens of what is best for a young adult’s mental health. I’m torn, really, because I think that a physical space is important; however, it is also important to be aware that areas of the US where homophobia and transphobia are a problem do not always have safe, physical spaces for LGBT youth. This is where online education can be helpful, I think, if the school is supportive. Socialization is so important—and if a student cannot socialize with peers who have similar needs/desires, they might be able to find a more supportive community online.

Has online education created new challenges for the community?

I’d say that lower income folks and homeless youth may be challenged by not having access to computers, but I don’t know if the actual online education itself is creating challenges. A challenge that does exist for many online and physical spaces is the persistence of very white, very Caucasian LGBT spaces. Embracing racial diversity and addressing the unique needs of youth of color will be important for both online and physical communities.

Are online colleges doing enough to be supportive and inclusive?

Some schools have established protections, anti-bullying measures, sure, but others haven’t caught up. I think the answer to that question lies in the resources that are being provided to students. For example, the University of California system has made a point to establish resource centers for LGBT students, staff and faculty–but no resource center is the same. There is also the question of, how do we reach out to students who are deeply in the closet? We want to be supportive and inclusive but if they are not ready to take advantage of the available resources [there’s not much we can do].

Any tips/recommendations for LGBT students looking for an online program?
  • Look for supportive online communities and organizations.

    Social interaction is a necessary component of ensuring that LGBT students are happy and healthy. If a student is considering online learning, they should explore the virtual community—is there an online resource page? Is there a social media function that can connection the online LGBT student with their peers?

  • Recognize your individual mental and social needs.

    Transgender students have different needs than bisexual, gay or lesbian students—and it is important to recognize this. Are there counseling resources available from this school? Does the school provide in-person counseling only, or is there a virtual counterpart? Take the time to research and explore the school you are considering.

  • Recognize individual career needs as well.

    What trajectory do you want to take–and what is the school willing to do to help students along their career path? Being pragmatic about what is required to excel is crucial. Yes, it is important to take into account what the school can provide in terms of mental and social well-being, but don’t forget you are trying to educate yourself to prepare for a career.

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of structure.

    With online learning–as opposed to on-campus learning–there may be less structure and a lot ends up in the hands of the student. Make a point to assess yourself and ask, is online learning right for my style?

LGBTQ Student Organizations

The best place to start looking for LGBTQ student support is at your own college or university. Beyond officially-sponsored services such as queer resource centers, LBGTQ-friendly colleges are often home to numerous student clubs, fraternities, advocacy groups, and political and social associations. Below is a list of national-level LBGTQ student organizations:

American Medical Student Association: Gender & Sexuality Action Committee

The Gender & Sexuality Action Committee works to establish the AMSA as a leader on issues affecting the health of women, intersex and the LBGT communities. The Committee sponsors initiatives, programs and events in support of Committee and AMSA issues and causes.

Delta Lambda Phi Fraternity

There are literally dozens of college fraternities on campuses throughout the United States that identify as inclusive of gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning men. Among the largest is Delta Lambda Phi, with 32 chapters and six colonies at colleges and universities across the nation. Delta Lambda Phi was founded over twenty-five years ago as a social fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men.

Gamma Rho Lambda National Sorority

Gamma Rho Lambda is a national sorority that is dedicated to providing a social support system for young college girls. Often referred to as the first national lesbian sorority, Gamma Rho Lambda stresses that they are inclusive of all members whether they identify as lesbian, bisexual, ally, transgender, questioning, straight or without a label.

Law Student Congress: The National LGBT Bar Association

The nation’s only LGBT law student organization, the National LGBT Bar Association promotes interaction between LGBT law students and lawyers, and helps LGBT law students build contacts within the profession. It is involved in organizing its annual Conference & Career Fair, and administering the annual Michael Greenberg Writing Competition and Student Leadership Award.

Reaching Out MBA

Through a network of affiliate LGBT MBA school clubs, Reaching Out MBA works to empower LGBT MBA students to become professionals that will lead the way to equality in business education, the workplace and the rest of society.

United States Student Association (USSA)

The USSA describes itself as the “country’s oldest student-led organization.” It develops leaders and amplifies the student voice at the local, state and national levels by mobilizing grassroots power regarding numerous student issues, including the ending of campus sexual and dating violence.

Additional Resources

The following is a list of resources outside of campus borders that provide useful information and support for LGBTQ students, their families, and allies:

ACPA: Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness (SCLGBTA)

Part if the American College Personnel Association, the SCLGBTA was created to give voice to LGBT professionals and students in the field of Student Affairs. Its stated purpose is to increase awareness, eliminate oppression, and provide support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in higher education for faculty, students and staff.

Campus Pride

The leading national nonprofit organization promoting safer college environments for LGBTQ students. It is a volunteer-driven network that offers in-depth and current information on resources, programs, and support services specifically for LGBTQ and ally students across the U.S.

Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals

The combined vision and mission of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Professionals is to “achieve higher education environments in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni have equity in every respect.” The Consortium’s website provides access to research, publications and other resources, including job listings, for its members and others.

GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)

Founded in 1985, GLAAD is the nation’s leading LGBT media advocacy organization. According to its stated mission, GLAAD, “amplifies the voice of the LGBT community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively.”

Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

Founded in 1990, the GLSEN is now the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Focused primarily on primary and secondary education, the GLSEN works to ensure that all students are valued and treated with respect regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC)

The NGLCC was founded in 2002 with the goal of creating an organization to support LGBT business owners and showcase the diversity of talent within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

National LGBTQ Task Force

Founded in 1973, the National NGBTQ Task Force claims the title of the oldest national NGBTQ advocacy group in the United States. Through the training and mobilizing of activists across the nation, the Task Force endeavors to advance full freedom, justice and equality for LGBTQ people.

National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP)

The NOGLSTP is an organization of professionals working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The organization’s mission is to empower LGBTQ individuals in the STEM fields by providing education, advocacy, professional development, networking and peer support.


With over 300 chapters and 200,000 members, PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization. PFLAG is committed to advancing equality and full societal affirmation of LGBTQ individuals through its threefold mission of support, education and advocacy.

Point Foundation: The National LGBTQ Scholarship Fund

The Point Foundation is the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ students. Its mission is to empower “promising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential… to make a significant impact on society.”