Challenges Faced by LGBTQ College Students

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young woman wearing a denim jacket with a rainbow.

Challenges Faced by LGBTQ College Students

In the past ten years, LGBTQ people in the United States—particularly in K-12 and higher education—have gained increasing visibility and some civil rights. These rights include open service in the United States military, marriage equality, and some protection against bullying and hate crimes at the state or local level.

In particular, the K-12 and higher education sectors have made significant strides in this regard. Yet difficulties continue. It’s imperative to know these issues important to LGBTQ college students.

Which topics are most significant to college students who identify as LGBTQ? Students who identify as LGBTQ may be at increased risk for mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, substance misuse, and even suicidal thoughts and behaviors if they are subjected to discrimination and pressure from their families and communities.

Students talking in the stairs of the building.

Counselors in higher education and professionals working in health care must collaborate to find solutions to issues important to LGBTQ college students.

1. Harassment

In high school, many LGBTQ students are subjected to humiliation or bullying; in college, they may suffer abuse on par with or even more severe than what they experienced in high school. Recent research found that three out of every four LGBTQ students have experienced at least one instance of sexual harassment during their time in school.

At a time when student learning and perseverance are major issues for higher education officials, reports of harassment and discrimination continue to be a problem. This is especially true for transgender students. Student reports of harassment in classrooms and other learning situations, claims of widespread cyberbullying, and reports of the amplification of racism and sexism through homophobic and transphobic harassment are all causes of specific concern.

The findings of studies on campus environment in general and LGBTQ climate in particular point to the detrimental effects of hostile climates on student learning, persistence in college, and mental health and wellness.

A person’s physical and mental health can take a severe hit when they are subjected to bigotry, abuse, or intolerance. LGBTQ survivors of victimization may lose their sense of safety, protection, and trust in the world as a result of their experiences.

2. Coming Out

Some college students choose to “come out” during their time at college when they are free from the demands of their families or cultures to make decisions about who they are and what they want to be sexually.

A father and his son talking while walking together.

The process by which LGBTQ young people become aware of, accept, investigate, and eventually “come out” about their sexual orientation or gender identity to those around them is referred to as the “coming out phase.”

The first step in becoming aware of and obtaining insight into the distinct mental health and treatment challenges that young LGBTQ persons may confront is to gain an understanding of the process by which sexual and gender identities are formed. Coming out is a challenging endeavor that calls for bravery on your part.

It’s possible that students who identify as LGBTQ will spend a lot of emotional energy preparing for this decision and coping with the emotions of their families and friends. The time, energy, and attention that might otherwise go into college work will be taken up by this frequently difficult procedure.

3. Anxiety, Major Depressive Episodes, and Stress

There is a significant disparity in the prevalence of low self-esteem and depression among LGBTQ students between the ages of 13 and 21. Skipping school due to fears is one of the many issues important to LGBTQ college students. This is indicative of elevated levels of anxiety.

Many young individuals who identify as LGBTQ believe that they are distinct from their contemporaries, which can result in social anxiety, feelings of isolation, and even despair. These mental health issues may have a detrimental impact on your education since it is difficult to concentrate on schoolwork when you are anxious, stressed out, or sad. The following are some of the possible causes of these problems:

  • The negative connotations attached to being gay in a society
  • Personal accounts of encounters with discrimination
  • The variations in way of life that people who identify as LGBTQ experience
  • A lack of support from social and family networks

4. Insufficient Access to Financial and Community Support

Young people who identify as LGBTQ are rarely raised in communities with other people who share their identity. As a direct consequence of this, many children who identify as LGBTQ are subjected to mistreatment and are estranged from their families. This is again one of the many issues important to LGBTQ college students.

They often experience greater levels of melancholy and loneliness than their peers. It will be more difficult to earn a college graduation if there is tension in the family and if there is not enough encouragement.

View of colored flags raised on a rally.

After they get the courage to come out to their families, some LGBTQ students’ families reject them or disown them. Because many applications for financial aid require a parent’s signature or include questions about the parent’s ability to pay for college, it can be challenging for certain students to qualify for such assistance. College students who are unable to obtain even part-time work to support themselves during their studies sometimes run into financial issues and may even end up living on the streets.

5. Discrimination in the Housing Market

LGBTQ students often suffer discrimination in housing situations. According to a survey published by the Urban Institute in 2017, which was based on the results of over 2,000 matched tests, housing providers are less likely to arrange an appointment with gay men than they are with heterosexual men.

And when service providers did meet with homosexual men, they quoted annual rent prices that were, on average, $272 greater than what was being offered to straight males. In addition, the study discovered that cisgender people were more likely to be informed about vacant rental units than transgender people were.

6. Body Image

The fact that bisexual and lesbian women are raised as females can make their experiences with body image and what they demand of themselves more complicated than those of straight women. They are subjected to beauty stereotypes that are contrary to those espoused by both mainstream culture and LGBT culture.

Women who identify as queer may not subscribe to conventional conceptions of what it means to be beautiful, but they do welcome and support alternative concepts.

It may be difficult for gay males to achieve an exaggerated feeling of masculine sexuality, and it may be difficult for queer women to reconcile competing expectations surrounding body image and femininity. Men who identify as gay or bisexual are typically shown as being physically fit, muscular, well-dressed, and well-informed about contemporary issues and fashions.

Some gay men are concerned that their physical characteristics, such as being too overweight or too thin, unattractive, or aging, may make it difficult for them to meet companions or create romantic relationships.

How to support LGBTQ students in college?

How to provide support for LGBTQ students in Higher Education? You, as an ally who understands and respects LGBTQ students, can contribute to mitigating issues important to LGBTQ college students. The list that follows shows five methods in which you can support LGBTQ young people:

Make every effort to secure LGBTQ institutions’ commitments

Students entering college for the first time who identify as LGBTQ may be aware of, have a need for, or want particular programs or regulations that help them feel secure or welcome on campus.

Their academic experience is impacted by bias or harassment related to their sexual orientation or gender identity that they may feel or experience because they are members of the LGBTQ community. Be a voice for them, and assist them in making a difference in the world.

While there is not a single university that is flawless or wholly accepting of LGBTQ students, progress has been made. Such are the cases of USC, Berkeley, and Duke wherein these universities boast of gender inclusivity, specifically in the dorm rooms.

Group of students smiling at the camera.

Set a good example for your classmates both inside and outside of the classroom

What you say and what you choose not to say can have an impact on how first-year students understand the culture of the institution. When communicating, use terminology and terms that are inclusive, as well as diverse examples, including genuine portrayals of LGBTQ individuals. On the first day of class, make it a point to inquire about the preferred names and pronouns of the students, and then make sure to use those choices.

Establishing a crystal clear standard of respect and civility in your classroom will have a ripple effect throughout the entirety of the campus community. The environment that an LGBTQ person lives in on campus is created by the administration, teachers, and staff.

Students that identify as LGBTQ should be made aware that they are not alone

It may be challenging for an LGBTQ person or an ally to solely answer issues important to LGBTQ college students. As they say, no man is an island; or to be gender encompassing, no person is an island.

Students in their first year who may identify with the LGBTQ community are looking to form relationships with other students who share their identities.

Every day that you live your life as an out and proud member of the LGBTQ community or as an ally is another day that a student who may be grappling with his or her identity may see you and be motivated to live openly as well.

These students value you as an ally, and your presence is definitely required. Being an ally to these students is valuable. You may lead them to someone who can give professional counseling on campus.

Encourage the student body in all aspects

Nobody among us can be reduced to just a single facet of our identity. In addition, college is generally the moment when we first begin to comprehend our complete selves, including our sexual and gender identities, our religious beliefs, our racial makeup, and the physical characteristics that we possess.

It is important to remember to offer support to students at each of these intersections; doing so will result in a stronger relationship that will be of assistance to first-year students in situations in which they may require someone to talk to or confide in.

LGBTQ students’ rights

The following is a list of some of the federal statutes that protect students in the United States who identify as LGBTQ:

The Education Amendments of 1972 included a provision called Title IX that made it illegal for schools that received federal financing to practice any form of discrimination based on a student’s gender. Title IX rose to the ranks of topics that are widely discussed on a national level. This makes it one of the issues important to LGBTQ college students.

LGBTQ students now have equal access to admissions, housing, athletics, financial help, and other opportunities as a result of this.

Even if the harassing or discriminatory behavior was carried out by a student rather than a member of the faculty or staff, a college that receives federal funding can be held financially liable if it is proven that the institution willfully overlooked the behavior in question.

View of a student wearing a rainbow cape.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 expanded the definition of hate crimes to include bias against the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

This act was partially named after a gay man who was killed while he was a student at the University of Wyoming.

There may also be rules at the state level that protect you from being discriminated against, although this will depend on the location of the campus.

An excellent state-by-state breakdown of the anti-discrimination policies in each state is provided by the interactive map that is provided by the Movement Enhancement Project.

What are LGBTQ college groups like?

What are some characteristics of LGBTQ college groups? Below are some notable organizations in the collegiate setting and their unique traits that are continuing to find solutions to issues important to LGBTQ college students.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates And Defenders (GLAAD)

GLAAD is an organization that has been battling against the defamatory treatment of LGBTQ persons in the press and entertainment since its founding in 1985 by a small group of journalists and authors. Additionally, through their Rising Star Program, they provide LGBTQ young people with financial assistance.

LEAGUE Foundation

LGBTQ high school graduates who are beginning their first year of tertiary study are eligible to receive financial assistance from the LEAGUE Foundation. Since 1996, they have given 144 people a combined total of $317,500 in the form of awards.

To be eligible for this scholarship, you need to have a grade point average of at least 3.0 on a scale of 4.0, an extensive record of community service, and acceptance to a college or institution in the United States that is accredited.

Gamma Mu Foundation

Students who identify as LGBTQ and are a part of underserved communities in the United States are eligible for financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants from the Gamma Mu Foundation. You merely need to have graduated from high school and be under the age of 35; there are no criteria regarding your grade point average or the amount of community service you have accomplished.

Over the course of its history, the Gamma Mu Foundation has given more than $2 million in scholarships to LGBTQ students.

Pride Foundation

Another group that assists LGBTQ students by providing financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants is the Pride Foundation, which was established in 1985. You only need to fill out one application to find out if you are eligible for any of their more than sixty different scholarship funds.

If you are a resident of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, or Washington, there is a significant possibility that you will be eligible. In addition, you should look into the internship program offered by the Pride Foundation if you are considering a future career in philanthropy or the management of a charitable organization.


There is little doubt that life on campus has generally improved since there is still an influx of issues important to LGBTQ college students. Indeed, there is still much work to be done.

Here at AdmissionSight, we strive to create a safe and conducive space for all students, including members of the LGBTQ community, who dream of receiving scholarship grants from the colleges/universities of their dreams. AdmissionSight is committed to offering clients a wide range of services that are all designed to attract admissions officers. Make a call and we’d be happy to get you a free consultation.


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