Updated: Feb 22
Happy Pride month!
Every June, we celebrate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which galvanized the gay liberation movement. Just last week, the Supreme Court ruled “that the landmark federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ employees from discrimination.” The fight for LGBTQ+ equality has come a long way, thanks to the tireless efforts of advocates past and present. Despite the progress, not all spaces are equally as accommodating. LGBTQ+ students must often consider whether their prospective colleges are genuine safe spaces. We compiled 5 questions to ask when ensuring your future college is LGBTQ+ friendly.
Does the school have nondiscrimination policies?
At the most basic level, educational institutions with federal funding must abide by Title IX. This civil rights law “prohibits a recipient institution from excluding, separating, denying benefits to, or otherwise treating students differently on the basis of sex.”
It is important to note that Title IX does not cover all colleges. Some colleges opt for an exemption, which means that they are no longer bound to the standards listed above. As of 2018, there are 72 colleges that have successfully obtained an exemption. The 8000+ LGBTQ+ students at these schools can be expelled, disciplined, or even forced into therapy on grounds of their gender identity/sexual orientation.
Check to see if your college follows Title IX, a state-level law, or their own policy against sex-based and sexual orientation-based discrimination.
What are the housing and bathroom policies?
Unless you plan to attend an online college, chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time on campus. Check the policies for campus facilities, especially dorms. How inclusive is the housing? Some colleges may only have gender-specific dorm halls with gender-specific public bathrooms — this may prove uncomfortable for non-binary or trans students. An example of an inclusive housing policy would be the ability to request a roommate regardless of biological sex, gender, or gender identity. As for bathrooms, check to see how many all-gender bathrooms there are on campus. Some schools make it a priority to at least have one single-occupancy all-gender bathroom per building.
Are there school counselors who understand the LGBTQ+ experience?
LGBTQ+ individuals have historically faced serious disparities in healthcare. While almost all colleges provide some sort of counseling service, it’s important that they have counselors who can effectively interact with an LGBTQ+ student and understand the specific struggles the community faces. It may be helpful to scroll through the roster and see if there are any counselors dedicated to LGBTQ+ counseling or who identify as LGBTQ+ themselves.
What does the school’s LGBTQ+ center and clubs look like?
Many colleges have some sort of LGBTQ+ space available, but this can vary from a well-equipped, physical center to a single office. What is the space’s physical proximity to the heart of campus — is it highly accessible vs. located on the outskirts? These are often places where LGBTQ+ students go to access relevant resources or to hang out with peers.
Browsing the college’s clubs and extracurriculars is another way to gauge the culture of the LGBTQ+ community without even stepping foot on campus. Are there specific groups dedicated to LGBTQ+ causes? Based on their social media footprint and/or websites, how active/large/well-funded are these groups? You can even contact these groups directly on social media, and share any questions or concerns you may have.
What do the students actually think?
Campus guides will highlight the best and brightest aspects of college life. Your best bet for getting the real picture of campus culture is by asking the student body directly. Reach out to student groups or any acquaintances that attend the school. You can ask them whether they feel supported as an LGBTQ+ individual, what the school does well about it, or what the school could improve on.
If you don’t have the connections or if you're daunted by the idea of approaching a stranger, there may be Youtube videos, blogs, and social media posts through which students share their honest experiences. Another resource in measuring student opinion is campus journalism. Search through the archives to see what kind of LGBTQ+ news is being covered, and how the student journalists address it.
You deserve a campus that welcomes, respects, and supports you. Doing your research beforehand will give you the information you need to know before you even step foot on campus.
LGBTQ+ students have to consider unique factors in their college search. Download my completely free resource, 10 College Campus Red Flags for LGBTQ+ Students, to know what to look for on your teen's college visits:
Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is a college consultant and the founder of College Torch. He has expertise in the unique college search for LGBTQ+ students. Join us in our Parents of LGBTQ+ College-Bound Students Facebook group.