Last fall, nonprofit Campus Pride published its “Worst List” of the most unsafe campuses for LGBTQ students. It includes more than 150 mostly religious institutions and seminaries—from California through the Ozarks and to the East Coast—that have applied for exemptions to Title IX or enacted policies that strike against sexual freedom.
Those institutions are not alone in their lack of acceptance of gay and queer rights, though a few of them have become headline makers in recent months, with students staging a sit-in over employee hiring at Seattle Pacific University, dating bans continuing at Brigham Young University and concerns rising over alleged conversion therapy at Liberty University.
Those tense climates, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of empathy among some political leaders, have had devastating impacts on students. In a recent survey done by BestColleges.com, 30% of LGBTQ students said they have considered leaving college, while 90% expressed that their mental health has been impacted.
They cite burnout, depression, lack of confidence, hopelessness and suicidal tendencies. And in all of the areas addressed in the study, researchers note that those individuals are suffering far more than other students and will turn to self-harm or stop caring for themselves if supports aren’t there.
“LGBTQIA+ college students have a unique set of mental health concerns that require school support from a place of understanding,” said Jessica Bryant, an analyst for BestColleges.com. “Colleges and universities’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training for faculty and staff must include important details about this group’s needs to strive towards improving the well-being of all students.”
Nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ students have reached out for mental health help or are in therapy, according to the BestColleges study, but a third of them are going off-campus to get assistance. Some say they struggle to get help because of costs or insurance tie-ups, and 30% note that long wait times and a lack of counselors with similar identities on their campuses create additional barriers.
Providing robust resources and spaces is key
The crisis is more pronounced at institutions that are fighting against even the hint of organization gathering or connections being made. At Liberty, students cannot engage in any behavior that might be considered LGBTQ under its “Liberty Way” contract. At BYU, same-sex dating is not acceptable among students.
LGBTQ students are also facing an increasingly hostile political environment, especially in conservative states where several bills have been introduced that aim to tamp down free speech and LGBTQ rights in higher ed and K-12 schools, including the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation that passed in Florida.
Short of sweeping philosophical change, those institutions are likely to remain on Campus Pride’s Worst List. If there is a glimmer of hope for movement from those schools, it might come from an unlikely outlier, Baylor University. Though not fully embracing same-sex relationships, it is becoming more inclusive. Its Board of Trustees last year voted in favor of installing the first LGBTQ student group, Prism, saying “we recognize that Baylor’s LGBTQ+ students continue to seek care, connections, and community on our campus and a sense of belonging within the Baylor Family.” It was officially approved in April.
So how can campuses more willing to embrace LGBTQ improve their support of the community? They can follow the lead of the 25 best in the nation named by BestColleges and Campus Pride this week. There is also a new list of HBCUs that are the most LGBTQ-friendly.
Beyond that, Campus Pride offers an array of articles with guidance on many different topics related to LGBTQ that are applicable for college leaders, including:
- Strategies to create an LBGTQ campus
- Top 10 criteria students look for in an LGBTQ campus
- 7 ways for campus safety to support LGBTQ students
- The importance of having safe zones on campus
- How to handle hate preachers on campus