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The past year has been difficult for college students. But lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) students faced inimitable challenges. Seventy percent of LGBTQ+ young people ages 13 to 24 said that their mental health was poor during COVID-19. And nearly half of LGBTQ+ students said they wanted counseling but were unable to receive it. These facts speak to the resiliency of LGBTQ youth — and serve as an urgent call to action.
According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI), students who identify as LGBTQ+ comprise an estimated 10% of the college population — approximately 2.5 million LGBTQ+ young adults ages 18 to 24. The growing acceptance of those who identify as LGBTQ+ in America is encouraging more students to come out. In a 2019 Pew Research poll, 61% of Americans supported same-sex marriage while only 31% opposed it — a change that’s developed in recent decades. Additionally, 74% of millennials and 58% of Gen Xers who participated in the poll approved of same-sex marriage.
What challenges do LGBTQ+ college students face?
While LGBTQ+ college students have enjoyed greater inclusion in recent years, significant challenges remain. The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health sheds light on many of these challenges by capturing the experiences of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13 to 24.
75% of LGBTQ+ youth report that they experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their lifetime. Thirteen percent reported being subjected to conversion therapy — 83% reporting it occurred under the age of 18.
50% of LGBTQ+ youth of color reported discrimination based on their ethnicity in the past year, including 67% of black LGBTQ+ youth and 60% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
In addition to these challenges, LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk of certain health conditions, have less access to health care, and experience worse health outcomes.
- Behavioral Health – LGBTQ+ people are at greater risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts, mood disorders, anxiety, eating disorders, alcohol, tobacco, and substance use, and substance abuse.
- Physical Health Disparities
- Lesbian and bisexual women have higher rates of breast cancer, and both transgender men and women are at greater risk.
- LGBTQ+ people have higher rates of HPV infection. Lesbian and bisexual women are at higher risk for cervical cancer, and gay and bisexual men may have a higher risk of anal cancer.
- LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be obese.
- Gay and bisexual men are more likely to have HIV/AIDS than cisgender men.
- Access to Care – LGBTQ+ people have less access to necessary mental health care. They are also:
- Less likely to have health insurance.
- Less likely to fill prescriptions.
- More likely to use the emergency room or delay getting care.
- More likely to be refused health care services and be harassed by health care providers and mental health providers.
Discover how telehealth can support LGBTQ+ students
How has COVID-19 impacted LGBTQ+ students?
A new study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law conducted in collaboration with the Point Foundation found that COVID-19 impacted the educational opportunities, financial security, and housing stability of an estimated 3.4 million LGBTQ+ students ages 18 to 40.
Results also show that 39% of all students, and 65% of transgender youth and nonbinary youth, reported that their ability to pursue their studies was worse than before the pandemic. And, 33% of all students experienced a financial disruption, such as loss of financial aid, jobs, internships, or financial support from family members. LGBTQ+ students were twice as likely to have lost student housing than non-LGBTQ+ students — 15% vs 6%. More than 80% of LGBTQ+ youth stated that COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful — and only one in three LGBTQ+ youth found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming.
What support services are available for LGBTQ+ students?
No student should ever have to experience discrimination or negative behavior, regardless of their sexual orientation. This becomes increasingly important as young people begin to think about college. A recent report found that nearly 14% of LGBTQ+ students who receive frequent verbal harassment decide not to go to college.
Many higher education leaders are working on behalf of LGBTQ+ young people, and it’s making a difference: LGBTQ+ students feel a stronger sense of inclusion and safety in college than when they were in high school. To help college leaders continue this work, here are a few ideas to consider implementing on your campus:
Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA)
GSAs are student-run clubs operating in middle and high schools that provide support, socialization, and activism activities for LGBTQ+ youth. The overarching goal is to fight against homophobia and transphobia, providing leadership and activist training for group members.
The Trevor Project
With suicide rates dramatically higher among LGBTQ+ youth than their straight peers, The Trevor Project provides a 24/7 hotline (the TrevorLifeline), online community, and educational programs.
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender People, and Queer Youth and Student Organization (IGLYO)
IGLYO is an internationally focused advocacy and activism organization representing the interests of LGBTQ+ youth. IGLYO hosts conferences that provide educational materials and offers the public many opportunities to get involved.
It Gets Better Project (IGB)
The mission of the IGB Project is to give LGBTQ+ youth hope that things get better. In response to raised incidents of student suicide attempts after being bullied in school, syndicated columnist Dan Savage created the organization to provide inspiration and resources, including pledges and educational videos.
Attic Youth Center
This Philadelphia-based organization offers life skills mentoring, mental health counseling, supportive programs, community engagement, and social activities.
How can your college support LGBTQ+ students?
Here are five things your campus can do to support LGBTQ+ students and create a caring campus culture:
1. Integrate LGBTQ+ topics into the curriculum
Educators can promote a safer school climate by developing lessons that avoid bias and include positive representations of LGBTQ+ people, history, and events. For LGBTQ+ students, attending a school with an inclusive curriculum is related to less-hostile school experiences and increased feelings of connectedness to the school community.
2. Post safe space signs
Designate your classroom a safe zone by posting stickers or posters on the classroom door. This lets students know that you’re LGBTQ-friendly and are willing to challenge anti-LGBTQ language or harassment. Stickers also let students know that faculty, counselors, and administrators are open to discussion of LGBTQ+ issues. (Get a safe space kit).
3. Start a Gay-Straight Alliance
Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) are student-led and student-organized school clubs that create a welcoming environment for college students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. GSAs provide a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students and those perceived by others to be LGBTQ+, questioning their identity, having LGBTQ+ friends or family, or just caring about LGBTQ issues. Research shows that LGBTQ+ students hear fewer homophobic slurs, experience less harassment, have better attendance, and feel safer at schools that have GSAs.
4. Stand against homophobia
LGBTQ-inclusive lessons and discussions are best introduced in a supportive school environment. Introducing school-wide days of action and visibility, such as Ally Week, No Name-Calling Week, and the Day of Silence are ways to shift school culture to be more affirming. Additionally, educators can create a safer classroom environment by interrupting anti-LGBTQ+ remarks or comments.
5. Provide 24/7/365 support
Implementing customizable and scalable telehealth services for your campus can provide your student body — and your LGBTQ+ students in particular — with access to certified clinicians for medical support, as well as licensed mental health professionals for mental health services and support. A telehealth program enables your institution to provide cost-effective care by providing continuity of care that extends the offering of your existing healthcare resources. Unsurprisingly, students report the convenience, acceptability, and usability of mobile phone apps for mental health interventions, including those for mindfulness, drinking cessation, depression, and anxiety.
TimelyMD offers colleges a total health and well-being solution to improve the health of all student populations. And TimelyMD’s providers have experience supporting the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ college students. The customized telehealth program from TimelyMD gives students any time, anywhere access to quality care and immediate treatment for medical or mental health issues. To learn more about how telehealth can support your college’s mental health, including your LGBTQ+ community of students, contact TimelyMD today.