Students who identify as LGBTQ+, and anyone who values a diverse and inclusive learning environment, should consider attending a college where LGBTQIA+ students feel represented and welcomed. A 2018 survey by the American College Health Association showed that in a sample of over 180,000 college students, 17% identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, pansexual, or questioning. In addition to the challenges that all college students encounter, LGBTQIA+ college students may deal with specific issues for which they require support.
To help prospective college students with their school search, this guide lists some important features and LGBTQ+ college resources that any LGBTQ-friendly college should offer.
What Makes a College LGBTQ-Friendly?
Colleges demonstrate their commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ students by putting certain policies in place and providing LGBTQ+ resources on campus. The list below includes some features students should look for when touring or applying to colleges.
LGBTQIA+ Resource Center
A college’s LGBTQIA+ resource center serves as the hub of LGBTQIA+ student life, promoting community, visibility, and advocacy. These centers provide a safe space for LGBTQIA+ college students to meet and discuss their experiences and interests. A resource center also offers information on other LGBTQIA+ college resources and events on campus.
Prospective students should look for a LGBTQIA+ resource center on the websites of any school to which they consider applying. Students should also reach out to a mentor, advisor, or administrator to learn more about the school’s LGBTQIA+ resource center.
Student Organizations Dedicated to LGBTQIA+ Students and Allies
LGBTQ-friendly colleges offer various student organizations dedicated to LGBTQIA+ students and allies. In addition to more general alliance groups, like a nonbinary alliance or asexual alliance, such organizations might include groups for LGBTQIA+ students who share other common interests or identities. Groups may include LGBTQIA+ athletes, LGBTQIA+ business majors, or LGBTQIA+ students of color. They might also include groups that focus on activism or community service.
Student organizations help promote a vibrant LGBTQIA+ community on campus. The groups’ meetings might take place at the school’s LGBTQIA+ resource center. But even if they do not, the LGBTQIA+ resource center can show students where to find them.
Compliance with Title IX
The federal law Title IX prohibits schools from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. Discrimination on the basis of sex, under this law, includes gender-based violence like rape, sexual harrassment, and sexual assault, as well as discrimination based on gender or sexuality.
For LGBTQIA+ college students, a school’s compliance with Title IX means that if they ever face harassment or discrimination based on their sexuality or gender, the school will support and protect them. All schools that receive federal funds must comply with Title IX. They must also designate a Title IX Coordinator, whom students may contact about any concerns related to Title IX.
Scholarships for LGBTQIA+ Learners
Some colleges offer financial aid opportunities for LGBTQIA+ students. Some schools even offer aid for allies who have proven their commitment to promoting LGBTQIA+ rights. A college that extends its own LGBTQIA+ scholarships demonstrates the school’s desire to welcome LGBTQIA+ students to campus.
Scholarships might go to LGBTQIA+ students who plan to pursue certain degrees or majors and might include leadership training or mentoring opportunities in addition to financial aid. Prospective students should look for LGBTQIA+ scholarship opportunities online and inquire about them at a college’s admissions or financial aid office.
Inclusive housing means that college students may have a roommate of any gender. Students may want to share a room with someone of a different gender for various reasons. Inclusive housing benefits LGBTQIA+ students in particular, as those who identify as transgender or genderqueer might not feel safe or comfortable in housing situations based on their assigned sex at birth.
Prospective students can find lists of schools online that offer inclusive housing options. Schools that feature inclusive housing usually give students the opportunity to opt-in to gender neutral (inclusive) housing when they first apply for housing.
An Affirmative Statement on Inclusivity
Colleges often include an official statement on their website affirming their support of the LGBTQIA+ community and denouncing discrimination against LGBTQIA+ students. This kind of statement sets the tone for acceptable behavior on campus. It also assures LGBTQIA+ college students that the school will protect their rights and do its best to act in their best interests.
Prospective students should look for this kind of statement on the website of every college to which they consider applying. If they do not see a statement like this, they should ask an administrator for more information.
Like inclusive housing, gender-neutral bathrooms go a long way toward making transgender and gender-nonconforming college students feel safe, comfortable, and respected on campus. In a survey of over 500 transgender and gender-nonconforming students, respondents ranked gender-neutral bathrooms as the number one most important resource they wanted to see at their school.
While most colleges offer at least a few single-occupancy bathrooms on campus, needing to seek out these locations can be inconvenient, at best, for students with limited time to get from class to class. Truly LGBTQ-friendly colleges should provide gender-neutral bathrooms in every building. Prospective students should look for gender-neutral bathrooms while touring colleges.
Mental Health Services for LGBTQ+ Students
LGBTQ+ students may face distinct challenges during their college years, such as coming out, transitioning, or experiencing discrimination or harassment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, LGB adults experience mental health conditions at twice the rate as heterosexual adults, and transgender individuals experience mental health conditions at four times the rate as cisgender individuals. However, LGBTQ+ college students may hesitate to seek mental health services because they don’t know if the provider will understand or accept them.
Mental health services at LGTBQ-friendly colleges should have someone on staff with expertise in the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. The campus LGBTQIA+ resource center can point students toward these services.
Comprehensive Healthcare for LGBTQ+ Students
In order to support their transgender and nonbinary students, LGBTQ-friendly colleges must provide student health plans with transgender-inclusive coverage. Without such coverage, transgender and nonbinary students face an increased risk of school-related mental health issues. They might even choose to delay attending college.
Prospective college students can look online for lists of colleges that offer transgender-inclusive healthcare, including at least some transition-related surgeries.
Inclusivity Training for Students, Faculty, and Administrators
Colleges that offer or require inclusivity training for students, faculty, and administrators create a safer and more welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ learners. For example, LGBTQ-friendly colleges want to ensure that faculty use correct names and pronouns when referring to or addressing students. They will also promote an inclusive curriculum that considers LGBTQ+ people, history, culture, and experiences.
A school’s LGBTQIA+ resource center should provide information on inclusivity training. Students can also ask an advisor, faculty member, or administrator.
Q. What makes for an LGBTQ-friendly college? Are there certain things students should look for?
An LGBTQ-friendly college will have a large LGBTQ+ population and resources in place that are specifically for this community. It will have affirming practices in the health clinics, counseling centers, financial aid, and administration offices. Different genders and orientations are not “an option,” they are the default.
Single-gender campuses throughout the nation are adopting admissions policies that reflect a more inclusive student body. For example, Mount Holyoke College welcomes applications for their undergraduate program from any student who is female or identifies as a woman. Almost any campus can place “safe space” stickers throughout their buildings, but that doesn’t tell you if the infrastructure respects and affirms all identities. There should be language throughout the literature and in policies that reflects inclusive and affirming practices.
Q. When touring campuses, what questions should students ask?
When touring campuses, students can certainly ask about any LGBTQ+ and/or allied student or college-run organizations. But it will be especially helpful to ask about the percentage of LGBTQ+ identified students that apply to and/or attend the college. Some other questions include:
- How does the college support its LGBTQ+ students? What policies are in place in terms of housing, admissions, and on-campus administration? When were these policies adopted, and how has any backlash been addressed?
- What is the grievance process for those who feel they have been discriminated against and when was the last issue filed?
- What are some of the annual social events for students?
Q. If possible, are there certain people on campus students should speak with to get a sense of the culture?
To get a sense of culture, the most helpful people to talk to would be any member of a student-run organization focused on minority communities — including students of color, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, first-generation college attendees, etc. These are the groups that will know if the college puts inclusive policies into action or not. It would also be helpful to shadow a class, talk to an upper-level student, a resident advisor, the editor of the school newsletter, or the school radio station.
Sara Stanizai is a licensed psychotherapist and the owner of
Prospect Therapy, an LGBTQ+ affirming practice in Long Beach, CA. Prospect Therapy welcomes individuals of all genders and orientations, and especially welcomes first-generation Americans. She is also the consulting clinician for
Building Allies, an educational organization that offers training on best practices for serving the transgender and gender-nonconforming community. She is a proud graduate of Mount Holyoke College, the first women’s college in the United States.