Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual or queer (LGBTQ) face unique challenges when looking at prospective universities. With 3.5% of U.S. adults identifying as LGBTQ aspiring students and universities are becoming increasingly more aware of the importance of selecting a school that is supportive, safe and inclusive.
Identifying LGBTQ-Friendly Schools
Your educational experience is much more than just the classes you take, so it's important to thoroughly research every potential college may consider attending. Variables such as the presence of campus advocacy groups, professional conduct and proximity to LGBTQ-friendly communities are essential from an LGBTQ perspective. Any reputable school will have an admissions office that is eager to discuss LGBTQ options. Fortunately, many universities are adopting a culture of awareness and respect for the LGBTQ community and offer specific LGBTQ studies, housing and have active LGBTQ advocacy programs on campus. The following guide will help you find the perfect school environment for your individual needs.
Aspiring LGBTQ students seek universities that provide safe, supportive and enriching environments that foster learning, growth and participation on their campus and in their community. Each university has been ranked based the school’s offerings, such as LGBTQ Resource Centers, LGBTQ and gender-identified housing placements, Safe Spaces, student and ally organizations, training on gender identity, the presence of gender-neutral restrooms, campus police training, LGBTQ social events and counseling options. The eight criteria for ranking are:
Methodology Factor: School Policies of Inclusion
- Non-discrimination statement inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
- Students have the option to self-identify their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression on the application for admission and post enrollment forms.
- Simple, easily-accessible process for students to change their name and gender identity on university documents and records.
- Health insurance coverage for employees' same sex partners.
Methodology Factor: Institutional Support and Commitment
- Safe Space/ Safe Zone or ally program
- Standing advisory committee that deals with LGBTQ issues
- Resource center or office and paid staff with responsibilities of support to LGBTQ students
- Actively seeks to employ a diverse faculty and staff including visibly out LGBTQ people
- LGBTQ alumni group
Methodology Factor: Academic Life
- Faculty and staff training opportunities on sexual orientation issues
- LGBTQ-specific course offerings and studies program
- Actively recruits faculty for LGBTQ-related academic scholarships
- New faculty/staff training opportunities regarding gender identity issues
- LGBTQ staff/faculty organization
Methodology Factor: Student Life
- LGBTQ & Ally student and graduate student organizations
- LGBTQ social fraternity and sorority
- Regularly hosts educational events on transgender issues and intersectionality of identities
- LGBTQ-inclusive career services
Methodology Factor: Housing and Residence Life
- LGBTQ Roommate matching
- LGBTQ living space and community
- Gender-inclusive housing
- Gender-inclusive single-occupancy showing and restroom facilities in campus housing
- Trained housing staff about LGBTQ issues and concerns
Methodology Factor: Campus Safety
- Active LGBTQ students and student organization outreach
- Active ongoing training for hate crime prevention
- Procedures for reporting LGBTQ-related incidents of bias and hate crimes
- Supports victims of LGBTQ sexual and partner violence
- Campus police trained on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression issues
Methodology Factor: Counseling and Healthcare Options
- LGBTQ-specific counseling and support groups
- Free, anonymous and easily-accessible HIV and STD testing
- LGBTQ-specific health and safer sex information available
- Trans-inclusive trained counseling staff, health insurance policy that covers counseling and hormone replacement therapy
Methodology Factor: Recruitment and Retention
- Participates annually LGBTQ-specific admission fairs
- Offers LGBTQ student scholarships
- Provides an LGBTQ mentoring program and assistance for LGBTQ students to transition to academic and college life
- LGBTQ-inclusive graduation ceremony for LGBTQ students and allies
- LGBTQ-inclusive training for admissions counselors
The Top 20 LGBTQ-Friendly Universities 2016
The following universities have been ranked alphabetically according to the strides they have made in creating a LGBTQ-friendly university environment by indicating their support for LGBTQ students through alignment with the eight criteria above.
The University of California-Berkeley's Gender Equity Resource Center, also known as GenEq, is dedicated to promoting diversity among students, faculty, staff and alumni. Berkeley also boasts an LGBT sorority, a residence hall for students enrolled in the LGBT studies minor, and a group for Jewish members of the community. There are a number of educational programs, services and resources, available to the Berkeley LBGTQ community, as well as medical services tailored to the needs of LGBTQ students, counseling, and workshops. Some of the workshops include Gender Binary and Transgender 101.
2. Brown University
Brown University's LGBTQ Center has provided lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students with advocacy, educational programs, training services, and social events since 2004. The General LGBTQ Support Group offers services to students needing support with gender identity or sexual orientation issues. The Queer Alliance participates in community outreach activities, and the Renn Mentoring Program connects students with faculty members who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, and there's a specific support group available for student athletes identifying as LGBTQ. In addition, Brown offers health services and counseling for LGBTQ students, such as STI testing and psychological services.
3. University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is home to one of the country's largest health care organizations. Catering to the LGBTQ community, the Howard Brown Health Center provides an array of health services, including counseling, primary health care, HIV/STD prevention, social services, and youth and elderly care. The University's Booth School of Business offers students a variety of LGBTQ programs to choose from, including the Out for Undergraduate Business Conference and Reaching Out's Annual LGBT MBA Conference. Their LGBTQ Studies Project is dedicated to the advancement of queer studies and provides training for students to become researchers.
4. Cornell University
Founded in 1994, Cornell University's LGBT Resource Center serves as the epicenter of student life for both LGBTQ undergraduates and graduates. The center offers a number of services and events such as an LGBTQ mentorship program, the Safer People/Safer/Places network, the Lavender Graduation, the First Year Queer Connections Group, and LGBTQ straight Allies are welcome to participate in events. The University also provides transgender health services for students, including counseling services, medical care, and information about gender transition.
5. Emory University
Emory University's Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life hosts many services for LGBTQ students. The school offers four discussion groups for specific community subsections, the Black and Queer Group, the Bisexual/Pansexual Group, the Queer and Asian Group and the Trans-Forming Gender Group. The department also hosts a number of events, such as the annual pride awards ceremony, a drag show, and a pride parade. The university's Safe Space program provides training for students, faculty and staff to learn ways to support Emory's LGBTQ population.
6. University of California-Irvine
With a long-standing history of dedication to diversity, the University of California in Irvine continually works to ensure all students feel safe and welcome on campus. In keeping with this tradition, LGBTQ students benefit from the LGBT Resource Center. The center encourages and supports students in participating in a number of programs and workshops, such as Queer History Week, National Coming Out Week, and the Queer Talks conversation series. The Gender and Sexuality Studies Department offers courses on sexuality for students desiring to formally study LGBTQ issues. In addition, the school offers mentoring services, HIV testing, gender neutral bathrooms, and LGBTQA housing.
7. Ithaca College
Ithaca College created the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services in 2001, in order to meet the needs of its LGBTQ students. The center hosts a variety of student events, including the Gay Prom, the Welcome Back Social, the Rainbow Reception, and the Out of the Closet and Onto the Screen film series. In addition, students can take courses related to LGBTQ community issues through the Women's and Gender Studies program, and can participate in workshops and discussion groups during the university's LBGTQ Awareness Month about issues affecting the community.
8. Kent State University
Kent State University's Center for Comparative and Integrative Programs offers a minor in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies. Enrolled students take interdisciplinary courses that explore different aspects of sexuality and gender identity. Further support to LBGTQ community members on campus is provided by Kent's Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Students looking for other support and services to meet their unique needs can rely on the center’s comprehensive on and off campus directory of support programs.
9. University of Louisville
The University of Louisville stresses the importance of opportunity, diversity and social justice, and implemented the 2020 Plan in order to promote acceptance for all students on campus. The University opened its LGBTQ center in 2007, and offers students the opportunity to participate in a number of programs, including Monday Mixers, SpeakOut discussion panels, and a Pride Week celebration. Further promoting the 2020 Plan tenets is the Bayard Rustin LGBT and social justice living community, which encourages and supports LGBTQ students living among other members in the community.
10. University of Maryland-College Park
The University of Maryland at College Park's LGBT Equity Center provides various venues of community support, including the training in social justice activities though the Rainbow Terrapin Network, as well as a number of educational initiatives for students wanting to learn more about gender identity theory and transgender studies. In addition, the school's Department if Women's Studies offers a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies minor. The program educates students about sexual and gender identity and the LGBTQ experience. The health center at College Park offers a number of resources for LGBTQ students.
11. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
At University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business offers a variety of diversity-promoting programs. Ross Out for Business is an LGBTQ association that enables students to participate in social activities, attend off-campus recruiting events and receive mentoring services. At the Spectrum Center, Ann Arbor students can receive details about how to report a bias incident or hate crime and information about specific services for LGBTQ minority ethnicities.
12. Michigan State University
The Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender Resource Center at Michigan State University provides programs and services for the community and organizes LGBTQ events. The center works with MSU administration to ensure LGBTQ-friendly policies and student support, is home to a LBGTQ library, and hosts the Color Me Queer discussion Group. The school has also helped the community by forming the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Faculty, Staff and Graduate Student Association (GLBTQFSGA), and by supporting student organizations such as TransAction.
13. Montclair State University
Montclair State University has responded to The LGBTQ population's unique health issues by offering special services to meet their needs. For example, their Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) has now covers hormone therapy treatments for transgender students, in addition to gender surgery. Montclair's LGBTQ Center is a safe space for students to learn about LGBTQ issues while engaging in fun activities and connecting with other members of the community. Their counseling center provides therapists who specialize in LGBT issues and topics, and offers a place for students to participate in workshops, discussion groups and a pride awards program.
14. New York University
New York University's LGBTQ student population will find the school's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Student Center a welcoming environment. The center is dedicated to providing services, advocacy and education to students and faculty members interested in understanding community issues. For example, their Quench series is a regular student lunch program with queer discussion to share ideas with each other. The Center also hosts a queer film series, socials for LGBT graduate students, and programs for supporters of the community. NYU provides uniquely tailored health services for transgendered students, including counseling, hormone therapy, social services and HIV testing.
15. University of Oregon
The University of Oregon supports LGBTQ students through its LGBT education and support services program. An example of one of their popular services is OutList, a directory for LGBTQIA students, faculty and alumni who are interested in connecting with each other. Undergraduate students at the University of Oregon have a queer studies minor option offered by the Department of Women's and Gender Studies which allows them to take courses focused on topics such as queer literature, gay legal issues, transgender history and the relationship between medical ethics and sexuality. This LGBTQ program is the only queer studies minor available in Oregon.
16. Pennsylvania State University
Founded in 1994, Pennsylvania State University's lesbian, LGBTQ ;student resource center offers on campus support for LGBTQ students. The center offers mentoring, leadership retreats, discussion groups, and scholarships for LGBTQ students. Penn State's main campus offers a minor in sexuality and gender studies, which empowers undergraduates to learn about gender theory and sexuality, queer theory, LGBTQ social movements and the relationship between gender identity and art. The school also offers a variety of programs through their health services center, including hormonal therapy treatment, to meet the unique needs of transgender students.
17. University of California-San Diego
The University of California-San Diego's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center provides education and services to LGBTQ students and organizes a variety of events during the year, including a pride parade. The university's critical gender studies undergraduate degrees allow students to learn about issues related to gender and sexuality through courses in gender theory, art and sexuality, and sexuality and race. The school also offers a program addressing LGBT issues, and other services for members of the LGBTQ community such as a health services center and traned counselors available to address specific needs and concerns.
18. Stanford University
Stanford University's LGBTQ Community Resources Center offers students a welcoming place to learn more about the community and meet fellow students. At the center, a part of the school's student affairs department, students can peruse art publications, academic journals and magazine celebrating LGBTQ community and access an LGBTQ relevant film collection. Stanford's Vaden Health Center offers mentors for students who seek extra support, provides special services to LGBTQ students, such as medical care, sexual health education, mental health counseling, and provides information to transgender students interested in undergoing gender-related surgery.
19. Towson University
Towson University's LGBTQ student development program offers on-campus support for all members of the LGBTQIA community through mentorship, internship, leadership, social, and educational outreach programs. Students interested in reading magazines or watching movies with peers during lunch can pop into the Rainbow Lounge, featuring a resource library. Students wanting to learn more about LGBTQIA issues are welcome to attend the SpeakOUT Speakers Bureau program, and the school's LGBT internships provide vital hands-on work experience and course credit. Towson's counseling center also offers services and emotional support for LGBTQ students.
20. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
The University of Wisconsin is dedicated to creating a welcoming environment for members of the LGBTQ community and their allies and supporters. The school's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Resource Center is a place where students can become more educated about important LGBTQ community issues and receive social and emotional support. The Center's Safe Space program is a safe area for LGBT students, staff and faculty members to engage in thoughtful dialogue with each other. Additionally, there are also a number of social programs and workshops available at the center throughout the academic year.
As gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have made major contributions to the fields of art, industry, science, culture and more, yet have historically not been acknowledged for their accomplishments. The best way to encourage acceptance and promote a safe learning environment for LGBTQ students on college campuses is through the development of LGBTQ-inclusive curricula. By adding an inclusive history to academic programs, as well as courses concerning LGBTQ and sexual identity issues, campuses engender an atmosphere of acceptance that can help LGBTQ students feel welcome and like they belong.
LGBTQ-inclusive additions generally take one of two forms:
1. Specialized degree programs such as majors and minors, individual courses and classes covering topics such as diversity, sexuality, gender, and queer history and culture.
2. Lesson Plans that avoid bias in all fields of study, which represent LGBTQ individuals positively in history, current issues and events.
LGBTQ Studies -- the study of issues relating to gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual identity -- covers a lot of ground and includes the fields of science, biology, psychology, philosophy, history, and political science, among many others. Today, dozens of colleges and universities throughout the nation offer LGBTQ-related degree and certificate programs. These programs include degrees with a LGBTQ Studies major, degrees with major titles such as Human Sexuality, Cultural Studies or Gender Studies as a minor or emphasis in LGBTQ Studies, and certificates such as LGBT-Affirmative Psychology or LGBT Health.
The following are examples of actual postsecondary academic LBGTQ programs currently being offered:
B.A Feminist Studies with LGBTQ Studies Minor
This major/minor degree combination can be used as a background for a career in variety of fields, such as the arts, social services, law, public policy and teaching, in addition to preparing students for graduate study in the humanities or social sciences.
B.A LGBT Studies
This degree focuses on education concerning sexual and gender identity, and the diverse historical and cultural experiences of individuals across the sexuality spectrum.
M.A in Sexuality Studies
While this master's program doesn't provide for an emphasis in any particular subject, students may take LGBTQ-related courses to complete the degree requirements.
LGBTQ Online Education Options
One of the most positive developments in the last decade has been the trend in postsecondary education online. A variety of well-established and accredited colleges and universities have begun offering online degrees. While prospective LGBTQ students likely have the same factors as the general population that make an online college more attractive than a traditional on-campus education, they also may experience more unique motivations.
The following are a few examples of reasons an LGBTQ student might find an online learning environment to be ideal:
Focus on Education
While the social aspect of college is important to many students, it's not an appealing perk to others. For LGBTQ students who don't want the distraction of social interaction, groups, clubs and political involvement, online learning allows them to prioritize their times and focus all their energy on their studies.
For various reasons, such as family obligations, financial restraints, or other personal reasons, some LGBTQ students are unable to locate to an urban area with an LGBTQ-friendly university. Locating an online college or university that offers a quality education and LGBTQ-inclusive policies may be their only option.
Limited Major Options
Students in rural areas may be limited in their major options at their local university or college. This, combined with not having access to a welcoming environment or an LGBTQ community makes online education a positive option.
LGBTQ Scholarship Resources and Opportunities
Fortunately for LGBTQ students, considerable funding exists to in the form of scholarships, grants and fellowships to cover educational expenses. Most will have a specific requirement, such as providing an essay or recommendation, and identifying as GLBTQ. For example, Human Rights Campaign maintains a state by state database of such funding. Here are a few examples of a variety of available scholarships:
Point Foundation: The National LGBTQ Scholarship Fund
A national scholarships fund awarding financial aid based on need to undergraduate and graduate students identifying as LGBTQ.
- Award Amount: Varies
- Due Dare: Varies
- Eligibility Requirements: Academic achievement, personal goals, involvement in the LGBTQ community, proven leadership
The Gamma Mu Foundation is a non-profit that offers scholarships for undergraduate and advanced degree programs for gay men attending brick and mortar colleges, particularly those in rural areas not likely to offer many LGBTQ support resources.
- Award Amount: Varies
- Due Dare: March 31st
- Eligibility Requirements: Under 35, financial need, living in a rural area, proven leadership.
Lesbian Caucus Award
The Lesbian Caucus Award provides grants to four graduate students working on dissertations and research benefitting the LGBTQ community.
- Award Amount: $500
- Due Dare: May 15th
- Eligibility Requirements: Ongoing doctoral dissertation or master's thesis in LGBTQ studies.
The Queer Foundation supports writing on LGBTQ issues by LGBTQ students with annual cash awards for queer theory or related fields.
- Award Amount: $1,000
- Due Dare: February 14th
- Eligibility Requirements: High school senior, written essay.
The Pride Foundation is a large LGBT advocacy group offering 50 separate scholarships to a broad range of academic majors. One application covers all awards.
- Award Amount: Varies
- Due Dare: January 15th
- Eligibility Requirements: LGBT-identified, straight allies, or children of LGBTQ parents.
Live Out Loud's Educational Scholarship offers five scholarships of $5,000 each year, targeted toward LGBTQ undergraduate students.
- Award Amount: $5,000
- Due Dare: Varies
- Eligibility Requirements: LGBTQ students attending accredited college, university or technical/vocational program.
The Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) supports LGBT acceptance and equality and their National Scholarship Program offers need-based financial aid as well. Local PFLAG chapters may offer scholarships too.
- Award Amount: Varies
- Due Dare: April 30th
- Eligibility Requirements: Graduating LGBTQ or ally senior who has demonstrated interest in serving LGBTQ community needs.
Additional Support Resources
Most colleges and universities have either an LGBTQ Resource Center or campus support group as well as other resources for their LGBTQ campus population. Some resources to look for when weighing different educational options are the following:
- Campus awareness activities
- Safe Zone training for LGBTQ allies
- A harassment hotline
- Guidance regarding coming out
- Peer discussion groups
- Partner support
- A Lavender Graduation
To locate campus resources available, contact the university's Student Services department, who should direct you to on and off-campus groups and available LGBTQ resources. For example, Gay-straight alliance clubs like PFLAG, can connect you with other students who share the same interests.
Community and National Organizations
There is a wealth of LGBTQ support options for LGBTQ students and allies off-campus. Here are a few examples of resources available:
Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), is very active and influential support group that focuses on current and pending governmental legislation important to the LGBT community. GLSEN has done more to combat LGBTQ school bullying than any other organization.
Gay and Lesbian Medical Association is an organization that supports public health policy developments for the LGBTQ community, with LGBTQ members which include medical professionals such as physicians, pharmacists, and dentists. Now known as GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality.
Colleen De Koning is a freelance writer with a passion for writing about social justice issues, the environment, and animal rights. She has been writing professionally for over 20 years. Colleen has been published in multiple online outlets as well as several magazines and books.