Choosing a college that is the right fit requires understanding all the different ways an institution may have an effect on your life.
You’ll probably consider a series of different priorities and scenarios throughout the process of finding a college: Will I fit in? What size institution do I want to attend? How close (or far away) do I want to be from my family and friends? What academic resources does the college provide to ensure I'm successful? And does the college provide financial aid to students like me?
Now, think about what kinds of additional considerations a student in the process of critical self-identity discovery may have: Will my roommate(s) want me out of our dorm if they know that I identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (GLBTQ)? Will I find a community of people who accept me?
Finding the right college can be difficult no matter who you are, but for students who identify as GLBTQ, the process is often even more complicated. Let’s look at different aspects and benefits of inclusion you may want to consider when you begin searching for schools where you’ll be embraced fully and find a rich community.
Understanding the Terms
I’d like to start at the very beginning — definitions! I'm often asked what the different terms in the GLBTW acronym mean, so let me clarify with the following caveats:
These are just the most commonly used terms, so this is not an exhaustive list.
These terms come from my personal experience, so they may have different definitions when used by others.
Universities may use acronyms differently from one another, so what is called LGBT at one school may be GLBTQ elsewhere.
If you have questions about these or other terms you encounter, I encourage you to ask a question for clarification or more information.
This is a label for men who form emotional and/or sexual relationships with other male-identified people, though it has become more of an umbrella term for all people who form these types of relationships with others who identify as the same gender.
This term is used as a label for women who form emotional and/or sexual relationships with other female-identified people.
This word is a label for people who form emotional and/or sexual relationships with individuals of same or different genders.
This is an umbrella term that encompasses identities that “transgress” gender in some way. It is used commonly to describe people who have a gender identity that is not congruent with the sex they were assigned at birth.
This is a term that was originally used as hate language but has since been reclaimed as an identity that is more fluid and broader than gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Whew! Still with us? Good …
The Focus on Inclusion
Why are we raising this subject in the first place? Why is this issue of GLBTQ inclusion so important?
With increasing numbers of youth coming out at earlier ages as GLBTQ, it is essential that there is support at the college level. The Internet and access to information, as well as the creation of Gay/Straight Alliances in high schools, allow students to find new forms of support and community. It is important that they continue to turn to these types of resources as they transition to college, and fortunately, there are many organizations on college campuses that offer students the opportunity to do so.
The definition of diversity and inclusion is now broadening to include sexuality and gender minorities. Students ought be able to walk onto a campus and be in a position to excel academically and socially; one of the most effective way to ensure that success is to allow space for students to show up as their authentic selves.
Research by S. Rankin and others shows that the stress of hiding your true self coupled with worries about finances/family/coming out lead to more mental health issues, higher dropout rates, increased withdrawal and isolation, and other worrisome behaviors. With the proper supports in place, though, GLBTQ students can be high-achievers like their non-GLBTQ peers, and are better prepared to cope with the unique situations that they may face.
Questions About Inclusion
Maybe you, dear reader, identify as GLBTQ or as an ally. If so, these are some questions and explanations you may want to ask about the campuses you are considering:
Does the institution have a non-discrimination policy? If so, does it include sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression?
Having a non-discrimination policy that is fully inclusive means that the institution wants to protect GLBTQ students as much as possible. It means that the school is legally obligated to protect you if anything should happen to you on campus related to your sexual orientation or gender identity.
Does the institution have a GLBTQ Center or GLBTQ student organization?
Many schools have created (or are in the process of creating) GLBTQ Centers staffed with full-time student affairs professionals. These centers help students find support and resources and serve as a safe haven for many members of the college community. In addition, colleges can have student-run GLBTQ associations. These groups often sponsor activities to foster awarness and an inclusive community.
What does the student health insurance cover for hormone replacement therapy or gender confirmation surgeries?
Transgender-identified individuals, regardless of whether you are medically transitioning, may have particular medical needs that a school’s health insurance policy ideally covers. That said, not all do, and students must be proactive in confirming the details of each college’s insurance benefits. Taking ownership of your health is a critical step towards independence, and making sure that a prospective college will provide you with the coverage required to maintain your health is truly an important component of your decision.
What classes are offered on queer issues?
Representation and the messages you receive in the classroom are also key to a student’s well-being. You likely want to be at a college that is talking about the key contributions GLBTQ folks have made throughout history.
If you are looking for more information about schools that have gotten it right when it comes to GLBTQ inclusion, check out Campus Pride where Shane Windemeyer has created a phenomenal organization that offers resources to help students find and succeed at the school that will become a second home!
Now get out there and show your rainbow pride!