College can be a great experience for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer students. Many campuses provide a supportive, open minded environment where students are free to openly be themselves for the first time. Students who are questioning their sexuality or in the closet find it much easier to explore their sexual identity on a college campus where they have the support of other LGBTQ students. Young people who come from small towns across America may have felt like they were the only gay teenager in town. But that will not be the case on any college campus. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reports that approximately 12% of all college and university students identify as gay or bisexual. That is a substantial number and should make it easy for any new student to find a supportive peer group right away.
LGBTQ students should consider their sexual orientation along with their major when they are choosing a school to attend. Some schools are much more welcoming than others. The Huffington Post list the best colleges for gay and lesbian students as:
- Emerson College, Boston, MA
- Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC
- Sarah Lawrence College , Bronxville, NY
- Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
- Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH
In addition to the best of list, the Huffington Post listed the following schools as the worst places for LGBTQ students:
- Grove City College, Grove City, PA
- Hampden Sydney College, Hampen Sydney, VA
- College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, MO
- Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
- University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Knoxville, TN
Clearly these schools represent just a handful of the thousands of colleges and universities that America has to offer. Most students tend to stay in their home state to cut cost or have a dream school in mind to research. Either way, the internet is the place to start. There are many college ranking websites available with LGBTQ-friendliness as one of the search options. Campus Pride is a gay friendly website dedicated to just that and has several ways to search for colleges. Once you have narrowed your search to a few schools you need to take a more proactive approach. Visit the school’s website or call the student union and ask them if they have a LGBTQ Resource Center or a Gay Student Union. This would also be a good time to ask if they have special accommodations for LGBTQ students who may feel more comfortable in coed living situations or with access to gender neutral bathrooms, etc. A surprising number of schools already have dorm space available to meet such requests. Many gay and lesbian students live in the traditional dorms without incident, but unfortunately, bullying, teasing and prejudice do still exist, especially for transgender students.
College can be a great experience for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer students. Many campuses provide a supportive, open minded environment where students are free to openly be themselves for the first time.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force published a paper on campus climate recently. Their findings showed that strides are being made to create equality and safe environments for LGBTQ college students but that there is still much work to be done. Nearly all 1700 people on a small campus were surveyed, including all students and faculty to generate the following results:
- 71% felt that transgender people would be harassed
- 61% felt that gay and lesbian people would be harassed
- 43% rated the overall campus climate as homophobic
- 10% of respondents would avoid gay hang outs to avoid being labeled gay
- 41% said the college was ignoring these issues
- 64% said their classmates accepted them as GLBT people
- 72% reported that the institution provided visible resources on GLBT issues and concerns
How to choose a school if you are gay
Leaving home for the first time is daunting enough without having to be worried about being bullied for your sexual orientation. You want to choose a school that is welcoming to LGBTQ students and you want to find a supportive peer group right away. Attending a Pride college fair is a good place to start. They are held regionally so chances are there is one within driving distance of your home. You can sign up for newsletters, get on chat groups, find resources at your chosen school, meet people, and make all sorts of valuable connections. When you arrive on campus, immediately make contact with your campus LGBTQ resource Center or Gay Student Union. It is very important that you make meaningful connections.
LGBTQ Student Resources and Organizations
College is hard for everyone, not just gay students. College Students are up to four times more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol then their non-student peers. The risk of depression and other mental illness also goes up when you leave home. Mental anguish and substance abuse can be exacerbated by bullying or other behaviors. If you feel like you are being bothered by someone, reach out. You are not alone but you must take the step and seek assistance. Call your campus medical center and ask to see someone right away. No one has the right to harm you or to drive you to the point of self-harm. Here are some other valuable resources that can put you in touch with help locally:
The ACLU -for nearly 80 years the American Civil Liberties Union has been defending the rights of gay and lesbian people.
GLBT National Help Center – for someone to talk to 24 hours a day about bullying, coming out, resources, etc.
PFLAG – unites families and allies of LGBTQ people through mutual support and advocacy causes.
GLAD – fights to end discrimination based on sexual orientation through legal means, they offer free consultations to anyone who calls.
Scholarships and Scholastic Opportunities for LGBTQ Students
Some of the organizations that offer legal aid and moral support to students also offer scholarship money. College is expensive so it is very important to search for any offers that might apply to you each year. The LGBTQ Student Resource Center keeps a scholarship opportunity list on their website. Campus Pride has a searchable database for gay and lesbian scholarships that is frequently updated. The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid provides a long, detailed list of scholarships for LGBTQ students, their families and their allies. The amount of money available is impressive and many of the scholarships would easily cover all of the tuition at a state school.
For many, LGBTQ rights is being viewed as the “new civil rights movement” since same sex marriage was recognized in all 50 states in June, 2015. Since colleges and universities have traditionally lead the way for civil rights movements, it makes sense that they are starting to pave the way for this one. Schools are hiring full time employees to make websites, dorms, scholarship packets and orientation materials LGBTQ friendly. Schools are investing time and money on LGBTQ students. Elmhurst College in Illinois became the first college to ask students about their sexual orientation on its admissions application, since then other schools have followed suit. As 12% of the student population and presumably the adult population, as well, identifies as something other than straight on campuses across the nation, the LGBTQ population matters significantly in terms of income generating numbers. As schools grow more competitive with one another and students seek a socially and academically fulfilling experience, schools will have to learn to better serve the LGBTQ student’s needs.
Many schools now offer a gender studies department and some even offer a major or minor in LGBTQ topics. They are called different things at different schools and often information can be found by reaching out to your school’s LGBTQ student information center. For example, the following schools offer an undergraduate degree major entitled Gay and Lesbian Studies:
- Bennington College – Bennington, VT
- Cornell University – Ithaca, NY
- Bryant University – Smithfield, RI
- Denison University – Granville, OH
- Claremont McKenna College – Claremont, CA
- Gettysburg College – Gettysburg, PA
- College of the Atlantic – Bar Harbor, ME
- Goddard College – Plainsfield, VT
- Hampshire College – Amherst, MA
- University of Massachusetts – Amherst, MA
- Hobart and William Smith Collages – Geneva, NY
- Mills College – Oakland, CA
- University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, WI
- Wesleyan University – Middletown, CT
Taking classes in those programs, even if you are not interested in the major, is a good way of staying abreast of issues affecting the LGBTQ community, making friends and finding faculty advocates.
Remember, wherever you choose to go to school, there is no such thing as a 100% safe campus. The same safety rules apply to LGBTQ college students that apply to all students. Always lock the door to your room and your dormitory. Never travel anywhere alone, especially at night. If your friends are not available, call campus security, follow the Blue Light Paths or take an Uber home. Use commonsense when it comes to cyber security. Checking in allows everyone to see where you are, not just your friends. Checking in at the same places at the same times, week after week is especially dangerous. Make friends slowly with the people in your dorm and in your new found LGBTQ community. Just because you share space does not mean you can always trust them. You must be as proactive about choosing your friends as you are about choosing your school.