Creating More Welcoming Environments For LGBTQ+ Teens And College Students
Meet the Experts
Dr. Deb Cohan
Dr. Deb Cohan, Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of South Carolina Beaufort with a specialization in Gender Studies. Former Board of Directors member at PFLAG.
Eugene Patron serves as the communications and marketing director for the Point Foundation. He focuses on creating connections and awareness and building support for a variety of causes and communities.
According to the National School Climate Report, 86 percent of LGBTQ youth reported being harassed at school, compared to 27 percent of students overall. School years can be challenging for all students, yet those who identify as LGBTQ often face additional pressures or concerns. Within this guide, LGBTQ students can find resources and information about support systems available to help them navigate both high school and college environments.
A Safe Place to Learn
Incidents can take many forms, including physical harassment, emotional or mental abuse, stronger violence, or discrimination. As the Internet has grown to include the use of various social media platforms, cyber bullying has become an issue. Bullying Statistics found that 42 percent of LGBTQ youth have experienced cyber bullying, a rate three times higher than other students.
There is hope to shift the tide; GLSEN found that half of all youth don’t understand that discriminatory language is hurtful, nor do they realize the negative consequences their words have specifically on LGBTQ youth. A few things everyone can do to maximize support for LGBTQ teens and college students include:
Create a supportive community
1 Many schools have student or faculty-led groups that champion and empower the LGBTQ community and align them with straight allies. These groups often promote advocacy and education for the larger student body and provide an outlet for socializing, finding support and encouragement, and talking about the challenges faced on and off campus.
LGBTQ students are also encouraged to seek out mentors on their campus who can not only speak to higher administration on their behalf, but also provide a listening ear and an older voice on the challenges they commonly face.
Create a supportive school campus
2 As further statistics and research emerge about the damaging effects of LGBTQ discrimination on school campuses, many are taking an active stance against prejudiced behavior. Whether enacting policies and disciplinary protocol for those who engage in this behavior or educating all students about the importance of equal rights for all students, a number of colleges are leading the charge in shifting thought and action. These institutions often have LGBTQ offices that encourage student advocacy, alumni relations, media awareness, and faculty support. These organizations may also hose events to educate the wider campus and provide counseling services to students facing discrimination. Advocate pulled together a list of the Top 10 trans-friendly colleges in America.
Build outside resources
3 Outside of campus-based programs and offices, there are many local community and online resources that help to create more welcoming learning and living environments for LGBTQ students. Whether operating as a national organization with local chapters or an individual center, these programs will often work alongside colleges to help students find housing, employment, and healthcare services.
LGBTQ+ Resources for All Students
In addition to numerous LGBTQ organizations focused on particular age groups, many general programs and initiatives exist, which seek to bolster community, encourage positive dialog, and ultimately security greater equality. Some of the best nationally recognized initiatives are listed in this section.
Founded with the mission to build sustainable LGBTQ community centers, this organization now has over 200 locations in 46 states and five countries. Aside from strengthening local LGBTQ communities, the organization also provides networking, technical assistance and training, and capacity building services.
With a national focus on leading conversations about equality for the LGBTQ community and informing the media narrative, this organization works with news and entertainment media of all formats and communications and digital strategy outlets to ensure the public is provided with powerful stories about the LGBTQ community that advocates for greater equality.
Gay & Lesbian International Sport Association
With an international reach, GLISA brings together international sports federations, human rights organizations, associations representing sport teams, clubs from major regions, and other stakeholders to facilitate partnerships for building bridges between sports and the LGBTQ community.
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
GLSEN’s mission is simple: to ensure every member of school communities feel respected, regardless of their sexual orientation. This is accomplished through educating teachers, students and the public about the common pressures faced by LGBTQ students and working to remove barriers to success.
GE focuses on equipping the LGBTQ community and their allies to fight against inequalities and to push for progressive change. Whether organizing direct action efforts, hosting local community meetings, training members in tactics of direct action or providing professional consulting, the organization is committed to continuously fighting for equality.
Human Rights Campaign
HRC is the largest organization fighting for the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. The organization currently has over 1.5 million members, all focused on making true equality for all possible. The organization has a number of research publications outlining equality indexes on areas such as healthcare, employers, states and corporations.
Matthew Shepard Foundation
By erasing hate and building compassionate and accepting communities, the Matthew Shepard Foundation hopes to empower LGBTQ individuals to challenge and address discriminatory behavior in their schools, neighborhoods and homes.
National Center for Transgender Equality
Identifying as America’s premier social justice advocacy organization for transgender individuals, NCTE works at the federal, state and local levels to leverage political capital and change laws encouraging discriminatory behavior. The organization has a particularly helpful “Know Your Rights” section of their website with information on housing, healthcare, employment, and more.
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
Since 1973, NGLTF has focused on building the political capital of the LGBTQ community through activist training, advancing pro-LGBT legislation and raising the profile of LGBTQ interests and causes. The organization is also an excellent resource for learning about the beliefs and platforms of those running for public office in regards to LGBTQ interests.
Through support, education and advocacy efforts, PFLAG seeks to unite the LGBTQ community with friends, families and allies. By doing so, the organization hopes to further equality efforts and lessen discriminatory practices. Currently, there are more than 350 chapters and over 200,000 members.
TransYouth Family Allies
TYFA is focused on supporting children and families to create support systems offering encouragement and acceptance regardless of sexual orientation. Main areas of work include educating the public about discrimination, working to eliminate oppression and violence, and forming alliances to ensure support services are in place for LGBTQ individuals.
The organization has a number of outreach initiatives and resources to accomplish this mission.
Research has shown that LGBTQ students, no matter their level of education, have historically faced higher levels of discrimination than their straight peers. These numbers tend to be at their highest during the middle and high school years. A groundbreaking report by the Human Rights Campaign found that LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved at school. Meanwhile, 92 percent of LGBTQ students say they hear negative messages about being LGBTQ. Top sources for negative comments include school, the Internet and fellow students.
No student should ever have to experience discrimination or negative behavior, regardless of their sexual orientation. This becomes increasingly important as students start thinking about post-secondary options. A recent report found that nearly 14 percent of LGBTQ students who receive frequent verbal harassment decide not to go to college. Fortunately, many people believe this and countless organizations are working on behalf of LGBTQ teens to ensure these behaviors are eradicated over time. It’s working: 77 percent of LGBTQ youth said they know things will get better. Below, students and their allies can find helpful resources and information to support them through these years.
The Attic Youth Center
This Philadelphia-based organization is an excellent example of how LGBTQ youth centers can empower and inspire local teens that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. Some of the services offered include life skills, mental health counseling, supportive programs, community engagement, and social activities. AYC also provides a number of resources at both the local and national level.
Gay Straight Alliance Networks
GSAs are student run clubs operating in both high school and middle schools that provide support, socialization, and activism activities for LGBTQ youth. The overarching goal is to fight against homophobia and transphobia; providing leadership and activist training for group members and encouraging them to advocate for nondiscriminatory policies and greater equality accomplishes this.
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth and Student Organization
IGLYO is an internationally focused advocacy and activism organization focused on representing the interests of LGBTQ youth. To accomplish this mission, the organization hosts conferences, provides educational materials, and offers the general public many opportunities to get involved.
It Gets Better Project
The mission of the IGB Project is to give LGBT youth across the world hope that things do get better. In response to raised incidents of students committing suicide after being bullied in school, syndicated columnist Dan Savage created the organization to provide both inspiration and resources, including pledges and educational videos.
The Trevor Project
With suicide rates noticeably higher among LGBTQ youth than their straight peers, the mission of The Trevor Project is incredibly important. By providing a 24/7-crisis intervention service, online community, and educational programs, the organization seeks to be both life saving and life-affirming.
Since 2009, this organization has prevented 151 LGBTQ youth suicides through innovative programming and excellent resources. Whether offering daily after school activities or support and discussion groups, the Atlanta-based organization engages youth and empowers them to advocate for themselves. The organization also provides counseling and free HIV testing.
Local LGBTQ+ Centers
In addition to the larger organizations listed above, there are various LGBTQ Centers focused on serving local communities. Whether offering afterschool programs, counseling, mentoring, empowerment services or advocacy initiatives, these organizations provide crucial care at a pivotal time. These centers also frequently work with local schools to help create safer places for LGBTQ students to learn. Before visiting a center, students may have questions about their services. Some of these may include:
- Create a supportive community
- Many schools have student or faculty-led groups that champion and empower the LGBTQ community and align them with straight allies. These groups often promote advocacy and education for the larger student body and provide an outlet for socializing, finding support and encouragement, and talking about the challenges faced on and off campus. LGBTQ students are also encouraged to seek out mentors on their campus who can not only speak to higher administration on their behalf, but also provide a listening ear and an older voice on the challenges they commonly face.
- Create a supportive school campus
- As further statistics and research emerge about the damaging effects of LGBTQ discrimination on school campuses, many are taking an active stance against prejudiced behavior. Whether enacting policies and disciplinary protocol for those who engage in this behavior or educating all students about the importance of equal rights for all students, a number of colleges are leading the charge in shifting thought and action. These institutions often have LGBTQ offices that encourage student advocacy, alumni relations, media awareness, and faculty support. These organizations may also hose events to educate the wider campus and provide counseling services to students facing discrimination. Advocate pulled together a list of the Top 10 trans-friendly colleges in America.
- Build outside resources
- Outside of campus-based programs and offices, there are many local community and online resources that help to create more welcoming learning and living environments for LGBTQ students. Whether operating as a national organization with local chapters or an individual center, these programs will often work alongside colleges to help students find housing, employment, and healthcare services.
with Expert DR. DEB COHAN
Dr. Deb Cohan, Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of South Carolina Beaufort with a specialization in Gender Studies. Former Board of Directors member at PFLAG.
Virtually all high schoolers are developmentally at an age when perhaps more than ever, they crave the acceptance of their peers. This is no different for LGBTQ students, except LGBTQ students perceive cultural hostility and silencing and may not be ready to come out. If they come out, they risk being bullied. Some compensate by trying to be perfect in other ways, being a class clown, or some withdraw and retreat and risk profound isolation and even thoughts of suicide.
Because of the social change work of tireless LGBTQ activists and their straight allies, we are living at a time that is most ripe and ready for conversation. Ask questions, get curious, share your curiosity, and be prepared to be surprised as to how and where you might find allies. Also, seek out the GSA at your school, and look into your local PFLAG organization. In this day and age of social media, you will also find support in chat rooms and on websites with people living across the globe. With that said, think globally and act locally and keep up your involvement in your own community.
Do not be afraid to seek counseling so you have a safe, open, and trustworthy space to talk with a trained therapist, preferably one who specifies that s/he is friendly to these issues.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you can so your health issues can be addressed holistically.
Self-loathing, isolation, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts are sadly common among high schoolers and college students and especially so among LGBTQ youth.
They do a variety of things. Some provide peer support and mentoring, safe space for being out and/or gender questioning, a place for collaboration between “queers” and allies, etc. Organizations like PFLAG provide exceptional support for parents and families so there is increased parental acceptance that is crucial. I always tell students who are in the process of coming out to look into PFLAG and to direct their parents and siblings to this. It relieves students of the burden of educating people. Or as Audre Lorde said, “It is not the job of the oppressed to teach the oppressor.”
Teachers and professors can assign reading by some of the great LGBTQ writers of our time. Some write about LGBTQ identity while others write about other subject matter. Often, these are great springboards for discussion on intersectionality and the connections between gender, sexuality, race, and class.
Teachers and professors can also host film screenings and invite guest speakers who highlight these issues from their own personal and professional experiences; these activities must be followed by spirited, lively, open and honest discussions. I do this all the time in my own classrooms. It not only creates a safe space for LGBTQ students but it creates expansive space for straight students. I have had a number of students tell me that after my class, they would be okay if they have a child who is gay—this is hugely transformative considering that they entered the class admittedly homophobic.
- a) http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/overview
- b) http://familydiv.org/exhibits/love-makes-a-family/
- c) PFLAG
- d) “It gets better” campaign
- e) Ellen DeGeneres’s efforts and her speaking out
- f) The documentary film, Bully and the Bully Project
- g) The Network/La Red — Network for Battered Lesbians
- h) Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project
Students would serve themselves well if they seek out schools that are explicitly LGBTQ friendly campuses. Information about this can be found online. Also, this is evident at campus visits by asking about and looking at what sorts of activities are already offered and if there is room to embrace more — i.e. events that center on gender, a drag show, a GSA organization, vocal students, vocal professors, etc.
LGBTQ+ College Students
In addition to balancing coursework, navigating new social situations and possibly trying to work during their studies, LGBTQ college students may encounter unique challenges while undertaking their education. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that one in five college students fear for their physical safety due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. The good news is that many colleges across the nation are actively fighting to end discrimination on-campus and engender a spirit of acceptance and respect among all students, faculty and staff members.
The Campus Pride Index
Founded in 2001, Campus Pride has becoming the leading national organization for promoting safe college environments by developing student leaders and campus groups. What once started as an online community and center has now grown into a massive effort that has taken root on college campuses across the nation.
One of the most significant resources provided by the organization is the LGBTQ-Friendly Campus Pride Index. This guide is used to measure LGBTQ qualify of life across college and university campuses and promote better practices and open dialog. It also helps postsecondary institutions become more LGBTQ-friendly. According to the organization, “LGBTQ-friendly” describes a learning environment that is inclusive, welcoming and respectful for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
The Index has identified eight factors contributing to an overall LGBTQ-friendly college environment:
8 Factors Contributing to an Overall LGBTQ-Friendly College Environment
- Policy Inclusion
- Support & Institutional Commitment
- Campus Safety
- Conseling & Health
- Academic Life
- Student Life
- Recruitment & Retentions Efforts
Curricula & Courses: LGBTQ-Inclusive Academics
Aside from LGBTQ Centers and student-led groups, colleges and universities can promote LGBTQ awareness and acceptance through academics, as well. Some of the best practices include:
1 Create inclusive lesson plans with positive examples of notable LGBTQ leaders. Fordham University provides an excellent resource to all faculty members that outlines LGBTQ teaching recommendations. Some of their suggestions include:
- Challenge heterosexist assumptions
- Don’t use us/them terminology; be inclusive
- Use LGBTQ writers, academics, scientists, and business leaders as examples of positive contributions throughout the course.
- Increase the visibility of LGBTQ role models and allies
- Make all students, regardless of sexual orientation, feel valued
2 Offer degree programs covering gender, sexuality, diversity, and queer history and culture. A number of schools have courses and degrees that explore the spectrum of human sexuality. Some of the most interesting include:
- Feminist Studies
- LGBTQ Studies
- Queer Studies
- Psychology with an concentration in LGBTQ Studies
- Multidisciplinary approaches to LGBTQ Health
- Socio-cultural and historical dimensions of the LGBTQ community
- Queer theory
- Sex and gender in cross-cultural perspective
- The sexual politics of religion
Key College Resources for LGBTQ+ Students
Aside from academic inclusion of LGBTQ topics and positive perspectives, many campuses have various other types of support systems available for LGBTQ students. Some of these include:
LGBTQ Resource Centers
Because LGBTQ students can often face unique challenges, they need unique support and resources. Colleges and universities throughout the nation now often have centers dedicated specifically to LGBTQ needs. Students can find a safe place to locate resources, support, information, and care. In addition to direct services, these departments often host various campus events to foster community, promote education of LGBTQ topics, and promote health and wellness for all students.
Online Social Media and Discussion Resources
Today’s students constantly use the Internet in a variety of ways. Universities have picked up on this trend and many now offer online forums for discussion and support, and the latest information on current news and issues within the LGBTQ community. In most cases, these forums are private and can only be accessed with proper and valid school logins.
Faculty and Staff Education Programs
Academics lead the charge in ensuring all students, regardless of sexual orientation, feel safe, valued and empowered in their classrooms. Universities now offer training and many resources to ensure faculty and staff are well-informed about inclusion of LGBTQ topics and are sensitive to discrimination.
LGBTQ Campus Events
Campus wide events deigned to celebrate and empower LGBTQ students and their allies are a great way to educate the larger campus community about LGBTQ interests. Many LGBTQ Resource Centers will host a variety of events throughout the school year. George Mason University provides a great example of a rotating event schedule. Some of their upcoming events include Pride Week, National Coming Out Day and Safe Zone Training. The school also hosts book reading groups from LGBTQ authors and scholarships for LGBTQ students.
Special On-Campus or Campus-Sponsored Housing Issues
Students have enough on their plates without worrying about feeling comfortable in their living space. Many universities provide options specifically designated for LGBTQ students, be they shared dormitory rooms, suite-style apartments, or gender-neutral accommodations. Numerous schools have also begun creating all gender bathroom facilities to ensure further inclusivity.
Other Online Resources
LGBTQ students have enough on their plates navigating the usual pressures of college life without having to worry about feeling safe or discriminated against. Resources and organizations aimed at LGBTQ college students are crucial for educating, informing, advocating, and providing resources. Some of the best organizations serving LGBTQ college students and their allies are listed below:
Delta Lambda Phi Fraternity
The DLP Fraternity was established for gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning men in 1986. Today, the Greek life organization has over 30 chapters spread throughout the country. The chapters seek to form bonds of brotherhood within a decidedly nontraditional group, offering opportunities to lead, grow, and form lifelong friendships.
Gamma Rho Lambda Sorority
Established as the first national lesbian sorority, today this Greek life organization strives to be inclusive of all members, regardless of their sexual orientation. The enduring focus is on creating a sisterhood built on truth in tolerance, knowledge through diversity, bonds of unity, and strength in trust.
Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals
Since 1997, this organization has been working with colleges and educators across the nation to create learning environments where LGBTQ students have equality in all respects. Whether supporting academics or developing inclusive curriculum, the organization advocates on behalf of students by educating faculty and staff.
Reaching Out MBA was created specifically for LGBTQ students pursuing Master’s in Business Administration as a way of empowering and supporting them in their studies and as they enter the professional world. With a mission of inspiring these students to lead the way in equality, the organization educates students about the challenges and opportunities of being an LGBTQ MBA student, inspires them to be leaders, and builds connections among other LGBTQ MBA students.
The Point Foundation
The Point Foundation operates as a national LGBTQ scholarship fund, helping LGBTQ students achieve their academic and leadership potential regardless of obstacles. The biggest obstacle this organization seeks to remove is concern about financing a college education. Students with financial need who can demonstrate their aspiration to make a significant impact on society can truly benefit from the work of this organization.
The Gender & Sexuality Action Committee
Operating under the umbrella of the American Medical Student Association, GSEC seeks to assure equal access to both medical care and education. The organization aspires to be a leader on issues affecting the health of women, intersex and LGBT communities. This goal is accomplished through providing support initiatives, working with legislators to improve police, advocating for patients and students, and providing safe and supportive environments and leadership opportunities for physicians-in-training.
with Expert EUGENE PATRON The Point Foundation
College today is a challenging expense for all students, but in surveying LGBTQ applicants for Point Foundation scholarships nearly half say they lack family support to help them pay for college. LGBTQ students estranged from their families may have a hard time filling out FAFSA® if they cannot get their parents to supply pertinent information. (Thankfully, recognizing this challenge, the U.S. Department of Education has taken some important steps to make this somewhat easier in recent years).
LGBTQ students are very much in need of professional role models. They have never met openly LGBTQ doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists, or other professionals. Many LGBTQ students wonder if they choose to follow their interests and study their academic discipline of choice, can they be out to their peers and their professor?
Students often find that college is the first environment with organizations that accept, teach, and offer companionship for students based on their sexuality. Many LGBTQ students applying for Point Scholarships have told us that the presence of an on-campus LGBTQ center is a very important consideration for them when choosing a school.
Point alumni who have gone on to teach at colleges and universities stress the importance of faculty being out on campus and accessible to LGBTQ students. LGBTQ faculty interacting with LGBTQ students inside and outside of the classroom – having lunch with LGBTQ students, being an adviser to LGBTQ student groups – helps LGBTQ students by modeling for them how they too can integrate themselves into campus life. It’s important for LGBTQ faculty to identify and encourage faculty allies – including straight peers – who can help make the campus community welcoming for LGBTQ students.
Point Foundation is a supporter of the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which would require colleges to create and distribute an anti-harassment policy to all students and employees, including prospective students and employees upon request. More information on this proposed federal legislation can be found here.
According to Lambda Legal, nearly one-third of LGBTQ students drop out of high school, three times the national average. Just by getting through high school, LGBTQ students should take pride in their accomplishment!
LGBTQ high school students should try and participate in Campus Pride’s LGBTQ College Fairs, where they can learn about colleges that actively seek applications from LGBTQ students. Campus Pride and other organizations also provide annual rankings of how LGBTQ-friendly different schools are. Even after considering these rankings, it is important for LGBTQ students to remind themselves that they can find LGBTQ peers and allies on most campuses today. Students shouldn’t hold themselves back from attending the school of their choice because they are LGBTQ.
Scholarships for LGBTQ+ Students
In addition to countless general scholarships, LGBTQ students have numerous funding opportunities offered by leading civil rights and advocacy organizations focused on eradicating sexual orientation discrimination. Some of the top LGBTQ-specific scholarships available include:
The Pride Foundation
This scholarship awards LGBT students and their allies who have demonstrably contributed to the LGBTQ community. It is open to both undergraduate and graduate students hailing from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington
The League Foundation
$1,500 - $2,500
Students qualified to receive this funding must graduating high school students who plan on attending a college, university or trade school. As part of the application process, students will need to complete an application and two personal essays.
The Point Foundation
LGBTQ students who aspire to be leaders in their communities and in the fight for equal rights are excellent candidates for this scholarship. Selection criteria is made on “last provider” basis, meaning this scholarship fills the gap in funding not provided by other sources.
$1,000 - $5,000
PFLAG awards these scholarships to graduating high school seniors who self identify as members of the LGBTQ community or as an ally. Students must also demonstrate previous commitment to furthering equality via programs, projects or activities within their high schools or communities.
Gamma Mu Foundation
$1,000 - $2,500
Gay men under the age of 35 may apply for Gamma Mu’s scholarship, including those in both undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs. Preference will be giving to students who come from or plan to attend college in a rural area; who have overcome discrimination; who demonstrate leadership qualities; and who have a history of strong academic performance.
Live Out Loud
LGBTQ students demonstrating leadership and ambition are able to apply to this scholarship, providing they are also high school seniors living in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. Students will complete an information form and six essays as part of their application.
The Queer Foundation
High School seniors may apply for this scholarship, which is awarded on the basis of an English essay competition. Students must compose an essay focused on queer theory or related topics, such as queer medical, legal or social issues.
The Stonewall Foundation
Up to $12,500
This scholarship was created specifically for immigrant LGBTQI students enrolled in a New York City-based university to provide economic stability in an unfamiliar environment. Students must be full-time and should have completed at least one academic year at the time of their application.
The Association of LGBT Journalists
This scholarship was named after notable painter Bob Ross, who was a strong advocate for LGBT and AIDS rights. Students eligible to receive this award must be enrolled in a journalism or related degree program at a Northern California institution. Students who are from Northern California but attending elsewhere may also apply.
American Psychological Foundation
Students completing empirical and applied research focused on LGBT family psychology and/or therapy may apply for this scholarship, provided they are currently completing advanced graduate coursework. They must also be endorsed by their supervising professor and have a demonstrated commitment to working within LGBT family issues.