LGBT friendly colleges are critical for the safety and well-being of gay, lesbian, trans, and nonconforming young people all over the nation. For decades, colleges and universities have been at the vanguard of culture, whether that meant protecting artistic expression or giving young people a forum to voice their political views. But the best colleges for LGBT students can truly be a matter of life or death. Discrimination is still endemic: 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT; in adult life, unemployment is 13% for LGBTQ workers, and 16% for trans workers. LGBT friendly colleges provide a safe space for queer young people, while helping prepare them for a workforce that is still frequently hostile.
Searching Out the Most LGBT Friendly Colleges
There’s no one, simple way of defining what makes for LGBT friendly colleges, but there are some guidelines that can give an indication of their level of welcoming. Obviously, a vocal and well-promoted campus pride organization is a clear sign, but most LGBTQIA organizations are student-run; they don’t show an institutional commitment. However, the presence of a strong campus pride network is a good indication of queer acceptance and protections; if students feel safe to form an active (and activist) organization, that’s a pretty good sign that the institution is at least tolerant.
But to find the best colleges for LGBT students, look for policy: inclusive language in their student handbook; gender inclusive housing (or gender neutral housing); explicit non-discrimination policies (for instance, women’s colleges that are openly welcoming to trans women); mental health resources for LGBT youth (who disproportionately experience trauma, abuse, and PTSD). Gender neutral dorms and other forms of gender inclusive housing, for instance, allow transgender students to find a housing situation where they can be comfortable, just one example of how intentional policies can make for LGBT friendly colleges. Intentional gender neutral language, or explicit non-discrimination policies, create penalties for hate speech or discrimination, whether students are abusing other students, or faculty abuse their power in the classroom.
Ranking the Best Colleges for LGBT Students
In other words, inclusiveness is a grab-bag, based on choices that colleges make based on their own needs and student population. Policies or organizations that work for one college may not work for another, so defining LGBT friendly colleges means sorting through and analyzing. It’s a little objective and a little subjective, and always open for debate.
These 25 institutions are the highest-ranking colleges and universities known for their queer-friendliness. They are not ranked based on how LGBT inclusive they are (which would be impossible), but ordered by their Consensus Score, with the recognition that they are all LGBT schools in their own way.
Princeton UniversityPrinceton, NJ
John Witherspoon, one of the first presidents of Princeton University, signed the Declaration of Independence. This was a foreshadowing of Princeton University’s egalitarian ethos. Fast-forward two and a half centuries, into the new millennium, where Princeton remains true to their principles of justice. In 2006, the Princeton LGBT Center opened as a symbol of their campus pride.This center provided the necessary resources for those on an exploration path to discover their own sexuality. According to BestColleges.com,Princeton University ranked first among the best colleges for LGBT for students. The school provides LGBT workshops regularly; addressing emerging LGBT issues on campus, and in the world.
Princeton University was established in 1746, 30 years before the American Revolution. It is the 5th oldest university in the United States, with the largest endowment per student. LGBT students can study International Affairs, Finance, Engineering, Architecture, Theology, the Social and Natural Sciences, among other majors. According to U.S. News & World Report, during the years from 2001-2018 Princeton University was ranked as the first or second best University in the country (and one of the Ivy Leagues offering free tuition).
Harvey Mudd CollegeClaremont, CA
Harvey Mudd College (HMC) is one of seven schools that united to create The Queer Resource Center of the Claremont Colleges (QRC). Its mission is to serve LGBT students across their seven “shared” campuses. This unique initiative built a comprehensive library resource (i.e. LGBT movies and books). Harvey Mudd offers remarkable workshops and sponsors events on their ‘shared’ campuses. Harvey Mudd College provides a map that discloses the location of its gender neutral bathrooms across campus. Additionally, HMC provides gender inclusive housing options. Gender neutral dorms are available for those students currently transitioning.
Harvey Mudd College was founded in 1955 and named in honor of one of its initial benefactors. Among the LGBT friendly colleges, HMC is one of the most selective, as its acceptance rate is only 13%. According to the National Science Foundation, Harvey Mudd consistently generates the most Science and Engineering Ph.D. graduates, among its competing universities like Caltech and MIT. Those attending Harvey Mudd College proudly call themselves Mudders, and they’re frequently ranked among the best small colleges in the nation.
University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, PA
The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) proudly demonstrates its campus pride by offering The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center (LGBT Center) to its entire student body. UPenn’s LGBT Center was the first of its kind and has operated as a social hub for 35 years. UPenn’s SafeZones program is an exemplary model used by other LGBT schools. When a student sees a SafeZone sign on campus, it identifies a safe place for LGBT students to talk about gender identity concerns with faculty committed and trained to support diversity and inclusion.
Benjamin Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania in 1740. It is the 4th oldest higher learning institution in the country. Many education experts have ranked UPenn as a world leading university, known for their academic and research excellence, as well as their social responsibility (they are also one of the top green colleges in the nation). UPenn’s library, which began in 1750, has grown to over 6 million books and a budget just about $50 million.
Macalester CollegeSaint Paul, MN
Through Macalester College‘s (MAC) Career Development Center, the college offers students a chance to participate, and run, its Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC). MAC shows its LGBT campus pride by offering gender inclusive housing for students identifying as LGBT. The Campus Pride Index has recognized Macalester College as one of the best colleges for LGBT students in the nation. The GSRC’s website offers easy access to many resources for students determining their true gender identity,
Macalester College was founded in 1874 and, to this day, only offers undergraduate four-year degree programs. According to U.S. News & World Report, MAC ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country. More than 75% of their student body includes members of their high school’s top 10% graduating class. Students have the opportunity to create and design their preferred interdisciplinary coursework/degree. MAC voluntarily participates in the Allies Project; a campus model that creates and trains LGBT support faculty, staff and students. Macalester has been ranked one of CC’s best River and Lake Colleges.
Elon UniversityElon, NC
Elon University (Elon) offers a Gender & LGBTQIA Center to promote tolerance and inclusion across its campus. The Gender & LGBTQIA Center provides LGBT students (and those questioning their sexual identity) a chance to feel valued, validated and victorious while attending Elon, and in their lives. For the fourth year in a row, Campus Pride Index has ranked Elon is among the top 30 LGBT friendly colleges.
Elon University, a liberal arts school, was established in 1889. According to U.S. News & World Report, Elon University ranks as the #1 school in the southern region of the country. Elon is on a mission to create a campus platform where all students are welcomed and included. Graduates can opt to join Elon’s LGBTQIA Alumni association. In 2018, two Elon students produced a documentary which was screened at the NC Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the second largest LBGT film festival in the southeast region of the U.S.
Tufts UniversityMedford, MA
Tufts University’s LGBT Center was established in the early 1990s to act as a social and educational hub for LGBT alumni and students. Tufts University offers gender inclusive housing (known as the Rainbow House) through its campus pride initiative. The LGBT Center provides a space for those exploring their gender identity. Tufts LGBT and Trans students can opt to visit a separate health care facility.
Tufts University is a research university that was established in 1852. In 2006, Newsweek recognized Tufts as a member of the new Ivy League schools. Typically, 70% of undergraduate students live on campus. Tufts University is comprised of ten schools across four Boston campuses and another in the French Alps. Some of Tufts University’s programs are affiliated with the nearby schools of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. One of Tufts University’s earliest benefactors was none other than P.T. Barnum. Known for one of the nation’s best campus dining halls, Tufts is also the alma mater of queer icon Tracy Chapman.
Lehigh UniversityBethlehem, PA
Lehigh University created The Pride Center for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (The Pride Center), to reach for the objective of an equitable, just campus (and world). Their mission is to create a campust where everyone has a chance to explore who they and who they wish to be. Lehigh has established SafeZones throughout the campus, where staff, students and faculty are trained to professionally handle gender diversity issues. The Pride Center offers access to resources for students, parents, faculty, guardians and Lehigh University’s alumni.
Lehigh University is a private university that was established in 1865. About 40% of Lehigh’s student body studies at the College of Arts and Sciences. Up until the 1970s, incoming freshman wore ‘dinks’ – little brown hats – and participated the Pajama Parade. According to U.S. News & World Report, Lehigh University ranked 53rd (Tied) among 2019’s best colleges. Lehigh has also frequently been named one of the most beautiful campuses in the US, in addition to the most welcoming.
University of Washington-Seattle CampusSeattle, WA
The University of Washington (UW or U-Dub) opened The Q Center, primarily run by students, that offers advising, policy advocacy and mentoring services to anyone regardless of their identified gender or sexual preference. Once a month, the staff of The Q Center provides Free HIV testing and Safer Sex Education Workshops. UW’s Q Center also includes a lending library, gender discussion groups and blog opportunities for those students seeking a chance to participate to spread their message through two UW-sponsored blogs.
The University of Washington was founded in 1861. It is considered a top research university. U-Dub’s 700+-acre campus is home to a student body that exceeds 46,000 and, a worldwide top-ranked (largest) library in the world. School alumni include Pulitzer Prize winners, Rhodes and Fulbright Scholars and Nobel laureates. The center of the campus is known as Red Square– a location that includes landmarks like a statue of George Washington and the Broken Obelisk.
Ithaca CollegeIthaca, NY
Ithaca College’s campus pride can been seen by their addition of the LGBT Education, Outreach, and Services center. Their mission is to foster personal and academic growth for those students who identify, and those who are exploring their gender identity. Ithaca College’s LGBT center was established in 2001 and continues to provide a supportive and welcoming environment for LGBT students and their allies. Ithaca College has set up all-gender restrooms across the campus. Policies and locations are drafted and organized into one Ithaca College Statement.
Ithaca College is a private college founded in 1892. The Princeton Review regularly ranks Ithaca College as one of the best school in the nation. It is also recognized as one of the top-ranked schools that generate Fulbright Scholarship beneficiaries. Ithaca College began as a music conservatory in a building that was recognized, in 1971, as a part of the National Register of Historic Places. Ithaca’s five separate schools include The School of Music, The School of Humanities & Science, The School of Business, The School and Communications and The School of Health Sciences &Human Performance.
Ohio State University-Main CampusColumbus, OH
Ohio State University (Ohio State), through the Office of Student Life’s Multi-cultural Center, administers a variety of LGBT campus pride initiatives. The primary objective is to enhance awareness of the many issues faced by those who wish to live as their authentic selves in a less traditional gender identity. Ohio State has a number of ‘”Q*mmunity Groups” that focus upon CORE (Coming Out for Racial Equality) groups, among others.
The Morrill Land Grant Act established the Ohio State University in 1870 as a public agriculture and engineering university. The school offers more than 1,000 various types of student organizations. In 2017, the number graduates who had earned a degree from Ohio State neared 750,000. Olympic athletes from Ohio State have earned 100 medals (is it any wonder Ohio State has one of the top campus recreation centers in the US?). The 1,000-acre campus is a couple of miles north of downtown Columbus.
Pennsylvania State University-Main CampusUniversity Park, PA
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) as a comprehensive resource providing information, education and reinforced advocacy for those exploring or identifying with a variety of gender and non-gender identities. Penn State is considered one of the most LGBT friendly colleges as it includes all-gender restrooms and gender inclusive housing. Penn State is a proud member of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT resource.
Pennsylvania State University was established in 1855 as a land-grant school known as the Farmers High School of Pennsylvania. Penn State provides a higher learning platform on its 24 campuses and through its 18 colleges. Penn State launched the World Campus just before the turn of the 21st century. It now offers more than 60 online degrees and certificates. In a Wall Street Journal survey, corporate recruiters ranked graduates of Penn State #1 in terms of their ability to reach for success when hired.
Indiana University-BloomingtonBloomington, IN
Indiana University Bloomington (IU Bloomington) supports their LGBT students through their established LGBTQ+ Culture Center, a program administered by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs. Their mission is to proactively foster academic (and personal) success by building a campus that understands and appreciates LGBT students, faculty and alumni issues. IU Bloomington offers gender neutral housing that allows LGBT students to live their authentic selves on campus.
Indiana University Bloomington is a public university established in 1820. It consistently ranks among the top one hundred public institutes of higher learning in the country. Some consider Indiana University Bloomington to be a “Public Ivy” school. Indiana University – Bloomington’s ethos is to promote a campus of diversity and tolerance. IU-Bloomington is also home to the world’s 2nd largest student union, another sign of its commitment to student life.
University of Colorado BoulderBoulder, CO
The University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) offers its LGBT students and faculty a safe space providing gender identity support and education through its Gender & Sexuality Center. The center offers a safe and supportive space of inclusion advocacy and social justice. Their ethos is to observe and embrace student and faculty differences. CU offers its LGBT students the opportunity to join the Lavender Graduation, a yearly event that honors LGBT graduates.
The University of Colorado at Boulder was established in 1876 – five months before Colorado became a state. It is comprised of nine schools and is considered the flagship university of the University of Colorado state school system. The 780-acre campus is home to a student body that exceeded 33,000 in the fall of 2017 (and one of the best college for skiing and snowboarding, naturally). CU’s Natural History museum is recognized as one of the most comprehensive collections in the Rocky Mountain region of the country. In 2015, Thomas-Reuters ranked UC (28th) among the most innovative educational institutes of higher learning in the world.
University of Maryland-College ParkCollege Park, MD
University of Maryland, located in College Park, MD, is a LGBT friendly college. The Terrapins value a strong understanding of diversity. They are committed to cultivating a respectful and affirming climate for all students to realize their full potential. They believe differences should be celebrated and they stand as a model for diversity through their student body and their programming. UMD offers all types of programming and panels to support their LGBTQA community.
UMD’s Clark School of Engineering is known for its hands on engineering program, allowing students to research and build as soon as they begin school. It is also known for its unique Out! in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program. They promote inclusion and support of LGBTQA science and engineering students in College Park. They recruit and address the needs of the LGBTQA and STEM communities and those who have been underrepresented in the past. OStem UMD promotes participation and the development of LGBTQA communities in STEM.
University of Massachusetts-AmherstAmherst, MA
UMass Amherst, located in Amherst, MA, is the original and largest university of the five-campus university system and has been ranked as one of the best campuses in the country for LGBT students by Campus Pride. It has received a five star rating in the LGBT Friendly Campus Climate Index. They offer defined residential communities (DRC), which are hallways where students live with those that share similar interests, and identities. One such DRC is Spectrum, which supports the rights and needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and asexual people and their allies.
UMass Amherst has The Stonewall Center, which is a lesbian, gay, trans, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) Resource Center. It serves the entire UMass community and provides cultural and educational programming, LGBTQIA ally training, a library, information and support. The Stonewall Center offers many other resources for students, such as support, a LGBTQIA+ affirming religious group, and LGBTQIA+ related courses. There are almost a dozen student groups catering to LGBTQIA+ and the challenges they face. UMass is also one of the best theater colleges in the country.
University of OregonEugene, OR
University of Oregon, located in Eugene, OR, is one of the top LGBTQIA+ campuses in Oregon. They affirm the lives of LGBTIA+ students with support resources and education. They provide space for all members of the Duck community to explore their identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. They have gender inclusive housing such as residence halls for individuals that do not conform to male or female gender. Students can live with a student of any gender identity. The Academic Residential Community creates opportunity through course work to foster understanding and respect for various identities.
University of Oregon offers a minor in queer studies (QST) under Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The goal of this minor is to study sexuality and its complex history and culture. The approach of this minor is to study sexuality in relation to the social construction of gender, race, and class. The focus is critical thinking and social analysis about larger social and institutional formations. QST looks at how society and politics shapes sexual and gender expression norms.
Augsburg UniversityMinneapolis, MN
Augsburg University, located in Minneapolis, MN, was named one of Top 30 LGBTQ friendly campus by Campus Pride, with a 5 star rating. They have a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) Student Services working to improve the campus environment for all students. The student services strive to support an inclusive understanding of gender and sexuality. The provide advisement, advocacy and support for LGBTQIA+ students. They create a network and opportunity for the LGBTQIA+ campus community.
They are advocates for change in policies and procedures campus wide to be more equitable to LGBTQIA individuals. In support of LGBTQIA students, Augsburg University allows students to select their personal pronoun in their records and registration for use in university records. They allow students to use a name different than their legal name on their university records. Augsburg has gender neutral restrooms all over campus for students to have a safe restroom.
Kansas State UniversityManhattan, KS
Kansas State University, located in Manhattan, KS, is the proud home of the Wildcats. It’s also a proud home of Pride, dedicated to providing a nurturing and safe environment for all LGBT students. They have a LGBT Resource Center dedicated to providing security, education, and a productive environment to their LGBT students. Their mission is to create an environment of respect, equity and, social justice through programming, outreach and education. K-State has a chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM) dedicated to fostering leadership for LGBTQA individuals in STEM fields.
K-State has a Gender Collective, which is an organization that provides a safe place for trans, cross gender, intersex, androgynous, gender variant individuals. The provide outreach and education for the K-State community with the goal of promoting a better understanding and acceptance of gender diversity and identity issues. Together with the administration, they are creating an accessible environment for individuals of varying gender identities.
University of Wisconsin-Eau ClaireEau Claire, WI
The University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire is located in Eau Claire, WI, and has received a 5 star rating by the Campus Pride Index as the best school in Wisconsin for LGBTQIA+ students. UW-Eau Claire Blugolds have launched meaningful careers upon graduation for a century. They’re a LGBT friendly college believing in equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). They created an open, supportive campus focused on ending racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. They created a certificate in EDI for faculty and staff as part of their professional development.
UW-Eau Claire has a Gender & Sexuality Resource Center dedicated to creating a safe and inclusive campus for all students. They advocate and celebrate those identities that continue to be marginalized. We believe in education, inspiration, and inclusion in all programs and events. The GSRC fosters a supportive environment with intellectual, personal, and cultural programming. Included in this program is The Bridge LGBTQIA+ Resource Center, providing a safe space and an informal lounge and study space for students to gather.
Rutgers University-New BrunswickNew Brunswick, NJ
Rutgers University, located in New Brunswick, NJ, is a top rated LGBT University. The Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities provides educational and social programs, and leadership development for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, queer, and asexual (LGBTQIA) and ally students. Rutgers offers gender inclusive housing, including gender neutral dorms and freshman being paired with student interested in LGBTQ issues. Rutgers has a Douglass themed living community for students exploring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and asexual experiences both in and out of the classroom.
Rutgers is a LGBT friendly college offering many courses and programs dedicated to LGBTQ studies. One masters level course, LGBTQ Issues, students are given a foundation and the skills to work with LGBTQ individuals. They gain a broader understanding of how health, family difficulties and LGBTQ issues play out across an individual’s life span. Students learn about the development of LGBTQ identity formation and the coming out process. Students discuss ethical and legal impacts on LGBTQ individuals and their families. Other courses address sex related issues, including sexual abuse and intimacy issues.
Washington State UniversityPullman, WA
Washington State University, located in Pullman, WA, is one of the top 31 LGBT friendly universities. It has the Gender Identity Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center (GIESOPRC), which is dedicated to the education, empowerment and engagement for LGBTQ+ students. The Resource Center’s signature initiatives include the UndocuQueer conference to highlight the intersection of undocumented immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community. They host a InQueery Symposium which features a speaker and student presentations related to LGBTQ+. Lavender Graduation is a celebration of the LGBTQ+ graduates and their allies.
The Resource Center offers education on being a LGBT and Trans ally. They offer training on the proper pronoun usage and how to engage in a conversation about which pronoun to use. The GIESOPRC has multiple resources and guides for those who would like to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community. The university offers gender inclusive restrooms and locker rooms. They allow students to select the name and pronoun that best suits the student to be used on university records and databases.
San Diego State UniversitySan Diego, CA
San Diego State University (SDSU), located in San Diego, CA, is one of the best schools for LGBT students. It has a campus Pride Center. SDSU creates and strengthens an inclusive and affirming space and environment for persons of all sexual and gender identities and their allies. The school works hard to provide resources for their trans and gender non-conforming community. SDSU has gender neutral restrooms. There are many student groups dedicated to enriching the lives of students regardless of sexual orientation, or identity.
SDSU is one of the top LGBT friendly campuses and the second college in the US to offer LGBT Studies as a major. This major helps to advance the knowledge of sexual and gender identity, while increases the understanding of cultural diversity, along with historical and current day experiences of people across all sexualities. Courses focus on all the emerging LGBT subcultures and identities from a big picture, and science and philosophy behind LGBT identities, literature, laws, and healthcare.
University of LouisvilleLouisville, KY
University of Louisville, located in Louisville, KY, has a Health Services Center that focuses on the promotion of quality healthcare for the LGBT community and create an inclusive environment for students in health sciences. The University of Louisville recognized a lack of competent healthcare for the unique needs of the LGBT community. They have worked to improve the climate, services, education and resources within the university and healthcare settings.
The University of Louisville School of Medicine is piloting newly released LGBT health competencies for medical schools. They offer a LGBT health certificate, which teaches healthcare students the knowledge to successfully treat LGBT patients. They have safe zone training centered around LGBT specific health issues in medicine, practice, and research. Education and training continuously change as the needs of LGBT individuals are better understood.
Montclair State UniversityMontclair, NJ
Montclair State University, located in Clifton, NJ, has a LGBTQ Center dedicated to creating an environment of inclusion and support to all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expression. The LGBTQ Center offers various resources for LGBTQ students, including student organizations and the Safe Space program. They have gender inclusive housing in Stonewall Living Suites, which connects students interested in supporting the LGBTQA community.
Montclair State offers a LGBTQ minor under the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program to allow students to think critically about identity, current issues, and activism. In this minor, students are informed about the intersectional experience of gender and sexuality and they way they move within all humans.
Southern Oregon UniversityAshland, OR
Southern Oregon University, located in Ashland OR, was ranked one of the top 25 LGBT friendly universities. They have gender inclusive restrooms and gender inclusive housing. They allow students to select the name by which they are known and that is one the school’s records. They also allow students to select the pronoun that the student prefers. SOU has a Queer Resource Center (QRC), which is dedicated to visible and accessible advocacy for the needs of LGBT students.
The QRC encourages building relationships and support systems to embolden every individual to have a positive experience, become a responsible member of the community, and grow as an individual. They teach students in the face of adversity to persevere, educate, take action, but also remember to care for themselves.
Portland State UniversityPortland, OR
Portland State University (PSU), located in Portland, OR, is one of the top LGBT friendly schools. Their mission is to promote a respectful culture of integrity. They have a Queer Resource Center (QRT) offering resources and programming to support all students at PSU. Anyone looking for information on how to support trans, and gender variant individuals in their lives is welcome. PSU has all gender restrooms throughout the campus. They offer all gender campus housing for those who want to live with others regardless of their gender. A trans student can update a preferred name on student IDs, class rosters and other campus data.
PSU’s Trans Student Resources and Retention Coordinator (TReC) is the contact for resources and services for students identifying as trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and questioning, in addition to students who are intersex. The TReC meets one on one with students to help them navigate gender identity struggles within the community. The staff is trained in intersectional social justice issues, trans healthcare and creating a safe place for survivors of interpersonal violence.