College Resources for LGBTQ Students

Of the roughly 20 million students attending American colleges and universities, it is difficult to know how many identify as LGBTQ. Coming out to friends and family is a deeply personal issue, and college is a time when many individuals are still exploring their sense of identity. According to a 2013 Pew Survey, 92% of LGBTQ individuals report that society is more accepting of them than it was 10 years ago. This growing acceptance means that college campuses are becoming more welcoming to LGBTQ students, but prospective students should still investigate what resources are available to them at the schools they are considering. This guide will discuss issues specific to gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, and intersex individuals, along with the challenges they face while enrolled in college. We use the term LGBTQ throughout both for simplicity's sake and because it is the generally accepted term among these communities.

Challenges Faced by LGBTQ College Students

While college can be a difficult time for all students, LGBTQ students must cope with a unique set of challenges. Beyond questions of how to pay for school and how to get good grades, LGBTQ students can face harassment from homophobic peers, social isolation due to their identity, and even physical and sexual violence. These stressors can contribute to anxiety and depression among LGBTQ students, and although social acceptance has generally trended upward, some colleges lag behind in creating safe and welcoming environments for LGBTQ youth and adults.


Percent of Students Experiencing Unwanted Sexual Contact by Gender and Sexual Orientation
  Heterosexual Gay or Lesbian Bisexual Asexual, Questioning, Not listed Decline to state
Total 10.8 13.7 25.3 18.6 11.1
Female 18.1 18.5 31.7 22.8 17.3
Male 3.6 12.1 11.1 7.2 6
TGQN* 9.2 18.4 24.3 24.4 25.6
Declined to State 7.9 16.5 25 14.1 9.5

*TGQN=Transgender woman,Transgender man, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, questioning. Source: The Atlantic

Roughly 80% of LGBTQ youth report feelings of severe social isolation, a problem that is particularly acute among youth in rural areas. Even if a student attends a college where they feel comfortable discussing their sexuality with their peers, they may still struggle to find acceptance within their own families and home communities.

Moreover, LGBTQ students face significant financial hardships in pursuing postsecondary education. One-third of LGBTQ students applying for financial aid indicated that they delayed attending college or graduate school because they didn't have the money to do so. Of those, more than 40% pointed to a lack of financial support from their family as the cause. In the most dire of circumstances, rejection by their family means that LGBTQ youth are not even equipped to meet their most basic financial needs, with a staggering 40% of homeless youth self-identifying as LGBTQ.

Those LGBTQ students who can afford college may still be subjected to harassment, assault, and sexual violence. As seen in the table above, LGBTQ students across the board are more likely to experience unwanted sexual contact. In the same study, 75% of LGBTQ students reported that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their college experience.

When a hostile school climate is coupled with family rejection and social isolation, rates of depression, substance abuse, unsafe sexual behavior, and even suicide increase. But colleges can help reduce these risks through a combination of inclusive policies, trained staff, safe spaces, and anti-bullying and anti-harassment education. If a student chooses a college wisely and is comfortable reaching out for help, various supports for LGBTQ students are available.


Of course, LGBTQ students need more than just the support of their college or university; parents, family members, and friends play a critical role in helping their loved ones succeed. Parents and guardians should speak openly with their child about sexuality and gender to help counter social stigma. Those close to LGBTQ youth should make clear that their love, affection, and support are in no way contingent upon the young person's sexuality or gender identity. If a young person comes out in high school (or before), family members can help research colleges that are LGBTQ-friendly. If an individual comes out in college, loved ones should realize that expressing feelings of discomfort can amplify the stress and anxiety of being in school. The unconditional love and support of friends and family are instrumental in helping LGBTQ youth navigate this difficult time in their lives.

Choosing an LGBTQ-Friendly College

The resources available to LGBTQ youth can vary a great deal from college to college. Some schools might be well-equipped to support youth who are already open about their sexuality and gender identities, but less prepared to help students who are still debating when and how they should share this information with others. The following list provides guidance on what sort of resources LGBTQ youth should look for in a college.

  • LGBTQ student organizations

    These groups play an integral part in creating inclusive environments. Not only do they help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness by connecting LGBTQ students with their peers, they can also act as a conduit for students to access other resources available on-campus.

  • Inclusion statements/anti-discrimination policies that include LGBTQ students

    Inclusion and anti-discrimination statements with explicit references to LGBTQ students signal the administration and faculty's commitment to supporting and welcoming this segment of the student population. More highly visible statements often indicate a stronger commitment.

  • LGBTQ resource centers

    Resource centers are either staffed by or can facilitate a connection to counselors and advisors trained to handle LGBTQ-specific issues. They also organize awareness and education initiatives, host activities and programs for LGBTQ students, and provide support for student clubs and organizations. In smaller schools, similar resources might be available through the student affairs office.

  • Gender neutral restrooms and housing

    Allowing students to live with anyone of their choosing (as opposed to grouping by sex or gender) is not only a preferred situation for many LGBTQ students, it is a sign that a school is actively trying to cultivate a safer and more inclusive environment.

Prior to enrollment, students should investigate what resources a college makes available to LGBTQ students. While most information will be available online, planning campus visits is the best way to ensure a college provides a safe and comfortable environment. Staff in the admissions or student affairs offices are also a good first point of contact; they can provide more specific information about resources and programming available to LGBTQ students on-campus, and they can also help make connections to current students (to talk about housing options, student life, and campus climate more generally) and faculty (to discuss advising, academics, and school policies).


It is important to understand how welcoming a college is to LGBTQ students before applying, and there are a number of ways students can gauge a school's commitment to the success and welfare of this student population. For example, are the school's counselors specifically trained to address LGBTQ-specific issues? Does the school have dedicated housing available to LGBTQ students, or will it make accommodations for incoming students who have concerns about their housing situation? Are the school's health services equipped and willing to help LGBTQ youth in a nonjudgmental manner? Does the school specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in the same way as race and religion? Are staff and faculty trained to investigate this kind of discrimination? Are college police trained to handle LGBTQ-motivated crimes and work collaboratively with the LGBTQ community? Choosing a college is one of the biggest decisions a young person will make, which is why it is important to ask the right questions.


LGBTQ students will need to make some decisions about how they present themselves during the application process. For example, should you mention your sexual orientation in your personal essay? Doing so could indicate to admission officers that you have overcome obstacles in life and are therefore better prepared for the rigors of college. Conversely, if the admissions officer is prejudiced against LGBTQ individuals, it might hurt your chances of being admitted.

Some schools have started asking students outright about their gender identity and sexual orientation as part of the application. For the most part, schools ask this question in order to demonstrate that they are welcoming to LGBTQ students and to help connect them with resources like financial aid. It is highly unethical, and in some cases illegal, for schools to share information about a prospective student's orientation or identity without the student's approval. While you should be cognizant of the risks in sharing this information, the benefits of being open and honest (to the extent you are comfortable) might outweigh the disadvantages.


Some LGBTQ students avoid Christian colleges and universities for fear that they will be judged or persecuted because of their identity. Others feel compelled to attend these same schools because of pressure from their family or communities. Because some in the Christian faith view deviation from heterosexuality as a sin, they may be less likely to provide the kind of support that LGBTQ students need. Some might even encourage or require students to sign codes of conduct that will place them in difficult situations.

The question of whether to attend a Christian college is ultimately a personal one. But even if you attend a Christian school that is unfriendly to LGBTQ individuals, there may be resources available in the broader community that can help you navigate the complexities of your situation. It's also important to note that some Christian colleges can be welcoming to LGBTQ students. Rather than dismissing these options out of hand, students would be better served by asking the right questions to see if a Christian school would be a good fit.


It is important to know your rights as an LGBTQ college student. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits any school that receives federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. More recent interpretations have expanded Title IX to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, although some religious schools can seek an exemption from this law. No matter where you go to school, however, you have the right to express your identity or orientation, which is considered free speech and protected by the First Amendment. Since other laws vary on a state-by-state basis, your best bet is to consult with an LGBTQ advocacy organization like the American Civil Liberties Union or the Human Rights Campaign if you feel your rights have been violated.

LGBTQ-Focused Academics

In addition to finding a college environment that is LGBTQ-friendly, some students may wish to study LGBTQ issues from a number of academic perspectives. There are several questions you can ask to find the right program that specializes in this area. In the first place, does the school have a queer studies or gender studies department? Do they offer majors, minors, or even certificates in these areas? What does the LGBTQ-specific coursework look like? Can you take these courses while pursuing another major or area of study? Are there members of the faculty who identify as LGBTQ or who conduct research on LGBTQ issues? These questions will ensure you receive the proper guidance before applying.

Gender Studies

A gender studies program explores how the spectrum of gender identities relates to history, social movements, structures of power, sex, arts, culture, economics, and a wide variety of other disciplines.

Careers this degree prepares for: Public health educator, crisis counselor, social services administrator

Queer Studies

A queer studies program tackles the political and social questions related to sexuality and orientation, helping students to understand both the history of LGBTQ movements and how to advocate for greater equality.

Careers this degree prepares for: Journalist, public interest lawyer, diversity and inclusion officer

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies

Sometimes used interchangeably with Queer Studies, LGBT studies may be used to denote a narrower focus that does not include identity components such as asexuality, pansexuality, or polyamory.

Careers this degree prepares for: College professor, human rights advocate, community relations professional

LGBTQ Organizations

On-campus and national organizations offer a host of benefits to LGBTQ students, from peer support and counseling to legal advice and financial resources. Joining support networks is recommended for all college students, but particularly those who may face additional challenges because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.


On-campus organizations provide easily-accessible connections to the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ-specific resources. Many schools have LGBTQ clubs, student organizations, and/or sororities and fraternities. If a school receives federal funding and has at least one other non-curricular club, it cannot restrict the creation of these kind of groups. In addition to providing a sense of belonging, these organizations will often engage in community service activities and can be a valuable source of information for prospective students.


National organizations, especially at schools where on-campus organizations are lacking, can provide a connection to the broader LGBTQ community for students who are feeling isolated or alone. They can also offer specialized support for LGBTQ students that on-campus organizations are sometimes not equipped to provide, such as legal or financial services.

Campus Pride

Campus Pride is a national organization that aims to create safer and more inclusive college environments. The Campus Pride Index allows prospective students to search and compare colleges based on LGBTQ-friendly policies and programs.

Gay Straight Alliance

The GSA is a LGBTQ, racial, and gender justice organization that brings together youth of all orientations, identities, and backgrounds to create safer schools and stronger communities.


GLAAD is a longstanding national organization that uses the media to encourage dialogue about LGBTQ issues and accelerate societal acceptance.


Through education, scholarships, and advocacy, PFLAG aims to unite LGBTQ individuals with family, friends, and allies in order to build a broad social movement to advance equality.

Trevor Project

Through phone, text, and chat, the Trevor Project provides 24/7 crisis counseling and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth from the ages of 13 to 24.

Safety Net

Safety Net provides support to LGBTQ student and alumni organizations at religious schools and universities, helping to address the specific set of challenges they face.

LGBT National Help Center

The center operates three volunteer hotlines and one volunteer chat system for LGBTQ youth and adults, and also hosts a database of local resources.

Family Equality Council

This organization is a network of LGBTQ parents and children working to promote legal and lived equality for LGBTQ families through community building, advocacy, and lobbying.

Human Rights Campaign

A nationwide civil rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign was instrumental in the push for marriage equality and continues to work for equal rights through education and activism.


GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (distinct from GLAAD) uses litigation, education, and advocacy to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status.


Gamma Mu Scholarship

$19,000; awarded to gay men who want to continue their education beyond high school at a college, university, or through a vocational or professional training program. More Information

Point Foundation Scholarship

Variable; must be out and identify as member of LGBTQ community and enrolled or intending to enroll at four-year college or university. More Information

Queer Foundation Scholarship

$1,000; awarded to queer youth based on an essay contest. More Information

Colin Higgins Youth Courage Awards

$10,000; awarded to young LGBTQ activists who have transformed their experiences with bigotry into opportunities to inspire others. More Information

Traub-Dicker Rainbow Scholarship

$1,500-$3,000; awarded to LGBTQ women who excel academically and are committed to LGBTQ issues. More Information

Levin-Goffe Scholarship for LGBTQI Immigrants

Up to $25,000; paid out over two years to LGBTQ immigrants who are attending an accredited, nonprofit school in New York City. More Information

Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship

Up to $2,500; must be under 27 and demonstrate an active commitment to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. More Information

Out to Innovate™ Scholarships

$5,000; must be an LGBTQ student pursuing a STEM major, and must maintain 3.0 GPA throughout college. More Information

LEAGUE Foundation LGBT Scholarship

$4,000; openly self-identified member of the LGBTQ community who has maintained a 3.0 GPA in high school. More Information

PFLAG National Scholarship Program

Up to $5,000;open to LGBTQ students and allies who have demonstrated an interest in service to the LGBTQ community. More Information

Additional Resources for LGBTQ College Students

The Point Foundation

Through scholarships and a bevy of resources, the Point Foundation helps LGBTQ students achieve their full academic and leadership potential.

Campus Pride

From its Campus Pride Index to LGBTQ-specific college prep resources, Campus Pride is an indispensible resource for prospective students and their parents.

National LGBTQ Task Force

The Task Force organizes and conducts research in order to secure equality for LGBTQ individuals and their families in education, housing, healthcare, and the justice system.

Human Rights Campaign

A civil rights organization founded in 1980, the HRC combines research, marketing, political lobbying, and education to advance LGBTQ issues at both the national and state level.

The Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals

In addition to research and resources, the Consortium maintains an interactive web tool to identify LGBT resource centers at colleges and universities across the country.

National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)

NCLR is a national, public interest law firm dedicated to promoting the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.

National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)

NCTE is a social justice advocacy organization that works specifically on behalf of transgender individuals, advocating to change laws and policies at the local, state, and national level.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

As a subset of their work to defend individual rights and liberties afforded by the US Constitution, the ACLU acts on behalf of LGBTQ individuals in providing legal guidance and offering legal representation.

Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)

The GSA is a LGBTQ, racial, and gender justice organization that brings together youth of all orientations, identities, and backgrounds to create safer schools and stronger communities.

The Family Acceptance Project

By focusing on LGBTQ youth within the context of their families, cultures, and communities, the Family Acceptance Project aims to reduce health and mental health risks such as suicide, homeless, and HIV.

It Gets Better

It Gets Better is a campaign dedicated to communicating to LGBTQ youth facing harassment and other challenges, showing them there is hope for a brighter future and connecting them with the support they need.

True Colors Fund

Through advocacy, education, and direct programming, the True Colors Fund aims to end LGBTQ homelessness.


GLSEN is an organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in K-12 schools, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is valued and respected.

My Kid Is Gay

A digital repository of resources aimed at helping parents better understand their LGBTQ children, and teaching them to effectively and lovingly guide them through their "coming out."

A website that pulls together information on laws and policies related to transgender inclusion in athletics and advocates against discriminatory practices targeted at trans high school athletes.


A nonprofit organization working to advance the civil rights of LGBTQ individuals and those affected by HIV. The organization also hosts a Legal Help Desk to field discrimination inquiries online.

Matthew Shepard Foundation

Founded to memorialize the death of Matthew Shepard in 1998, the Matthew Shepard Foundation works to reduce the rate of violent hate crimes through research, media productions, and outreach.

Out for Work

Through online job boards, career fairs, and counseling, Out for Work's mission is to support LGBTQ high school and college graduates as they transition from school to the workforce.

Bisexual Resource Center

By sharing resources and organizing local peer groups, the Bisexual Resource Center aims to increase awareness and understanding of bisexuality and orientations defined by attraction to more than one gender.

Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN)

AVEN is the world's largest online asexual community. It seeks to raise awareness of asexuality not as a choice but a sexual orientation, offering a wide variety of resources on the subject of asexuality.