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Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Students: What to Look for When Choosing a College

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No one knows for sure what determines sexual orientation. Everyone has the potential to become attracted to and form relationships with someone of the opposite or the same sex. Homosexuals are physically and emotionally attracted to those of the same sex. Bisexuals are attracted to persons of either sex. It is estimated that at least 10 percent of adults in the U.S. have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior or consider themselves to be of a homosexual orientation. They come from all ethnic groups, professions, races, religious backgrounds, and geographical regions.

Some people know and accept that they are gay or lesbian. Others, because of numerous reasons (personal conflicts, social attitudes, and fear of rejection) take longer to recognize and accept their sexual orientation. Some homosexuals may not be open about their sexual orientation while in college. Many people are surprised to find there are many other gays and lesbians around them. Coming out can be a liberating process of discovering oneself and new friends. When people feel included they can focus on learning. When they feel isolated and marginalized they can’t. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students want what everyone else wants when they go to college – to feel accepted and to feel like they belong.

As a LGBT or questioning student, the search for a college can present some special issues and considerations. You may be one of the many queer youth who have experienced intolerance or even violence. Perhaps you weren’t able to be honest with friends and family about your sexual orientation. This makes choosing the right college very important. You are choosing a college not only for academic reasons, but to use as a tool for understanding your life. There is no reason that college can’t be a positive experience, where you can find success and happiness.

Moving away from home and going away to college is a big step for most young adults. For LGBT students, finding a college that is gay-friendly is especially important. For some LGBT students, college may be the first place they feel free to be out and open. How do you find a college that is LGBT friendly? Below are a few things to look for:

  • Check the school’s nondiscrimination policies. You can usually find this information on the college’s web site or in the college catalog. Every school should have one. Does the school you want to attend include sexual orientation or gender identity in their nondiscrimination policy? If so, that’s a good sign. If you are discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, you will have some legal recourse. If the school doesn’t specify sexual orientation or gender identity in their nondiscrimination policy, you may be entering a hostile environment. Nondiscrimination policies also indicate that school administration has given an issue some consideration and attempts to make the campus a welcoming environment.
  • Check the academic offerings. Does the school offer any classes with gay or lesbian themes? Is there a Queer Studies department? Colleges that offer such coursework are likely to be gay-friendly, or at least have some gay-friendly students or staff.
  • Check for student organizations. Does the school have a gay and lesbian student organization? Look at the college web site or call the school to find out. Obtain a phone number or email address of someone affiliated with the group. Contact them for an honest opinion of the climate on campus.
  • Visit the school. Take an official campus tour. How do you feel there? Do you find people that you think might be like you? Check for fliers, posters, and the school newspaper. Are any gay events advertised?
  • Check out the surrounding area. Does the surrounding community have an active gay community? Are there cafes, bookstores, or gay bars in the area? These are all indicators of a gay-friendly environment.
  • Look into housing options. Some colleges offer residential programs specifically for homosexual students. Check with student housing to see what options are available.
  • Check into safety issues on campus. All colleges are required to keep crime statistics. Look at this information to determine the potential for violence against homosexuals. Unfortunately, violence against LGBT students continues to be the rule, not the exception. 75% of LGBT students report being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. 38% of LGBT students report being physically harassed because of their sexual orientation. These statistics appear to be improving, but keep in mind that many LGBT student victims fail to report crimes of this nature to campus or legal authorities.
  • Look into counseling and health services on campus. Many LGBT students utilize counseling services while adapting to college or coming out. Don’t hesitate to get help if you need it. Nationally, 30 percent of all youth suicides each year are students who identified as LGBT. The health needs of LGBT students must be addresses. Sexual health concerns may be different for homosexual students than for heterosexual students. Transgender students have unique health concerns. Make sure health services available on campus can accommodate you and your needs.

According to information from The Advocate, the 20 best schools for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students are:

American University

Duke University

Indiana University

New York University

Oberlin College

Ohio State University

Pennsylvania State University

Princeton University

Stanford University

Tufts University

University of California – Berkeley

University of California – Los Angeles

University of California – Santa-Cruz

University of Massachusetts – Amherst

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

University of Oregon

University of Pennsylvania

University of Puget Sound

University of Southern California

Going away to college is a great opportunity to finally come to terms with who you are if it wasn’t possible before. Coming out isn’t mandatory, but your happiness will depend on it, no matter when it happens. All the baggage you may feel like you’ve had to carry around from your past can be tossed aside and you can start anew. College will bring challenges. Welcome those challenges, especially the challenge of daring to be yourself.

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