Being LGBTQ+ at a Christian College
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- There are over 150 Christian colleges in the United States.
- Some of these Christian colleges are supportive and inclusive of diverse student identities, including LGBTQ+ learners.
- Colleges may have support staff and structures to help LGBTQ+ students.
- Still, conversion therapy for minors remains legal in many states across the U.S.
According to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, there are over 150 Christian colleges in the United States. Christian colleges provide higher education degrees — both undergraduate and graduate options — "founded on Christian theology, thought, and tradition." In comparison to Bible colleges, Christian colleges provide students a broader education, with course options in the humanities, arts, and sciences.
Some LGBTQ+-friendly Christian colleges do exist. For LGBTQ+ students interested in attending a Christian school, finding an institution supportive of non-heteronormative sexualities and nonbinary gender identities will be important. This article provides resources for LGBTQ+ college students attending or thinking about attending a Christian college.
LGBTQ+ and Christian Identity
According to a 2022 Gallup survey, 7.1% of U.S. adults identify as members of the LGBT community — up from 5.6% the year before. Among those polled who are Gen Z, more than 20% identified as LGBT.
Historically, Christianity has viewed the tenets of the religion as incompatible with homosexuality or forms of relationships not defined through heterosexuality. This has often forced followers of the Christian faith to hide their gender identities and sexual orientations from their families and social networks. Many people have lived in fear of retaliation from the Church.
Additionally, many LGBTQ+ people who felt safe to come out within their church communities, or those who had their gender identities exposed against their will, have been forced to engage in various practices thought to undo or "convert" their sexuality. Among them, conversion therapy — also referred to as "reparative" therapy — is known to cause severely detrimental mental health effects on minors, including anxiety, depression, drug addiction and misuse, and suicidal ideation.
Conversion therapy for minors has been outlawed in 20 states in the U.S. And certain municipalities have enacted city-wide protections in areas that have not banned the practice statewide. Still, conversion therapy for minors remains legal in many cities and states, and 32% of the LGBTQ+ population in the U.S. lives in states without policies banning conversion therapy for minors.
Title IX and Christian Colleges
Title IX federally protects civil rights relating to sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive funding from the federal government. While originally envisioned to ensure colleges create environments devoid of sexual harassment and sexual assault, the U.S. Department of Education has also interpreted and enforced Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and sexual identity. Doing so has given important attention to the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ students on college campuses.
However, LGBTQ+ students attending Christian colleges may not benefit from the same protections. Colleges and universities can request that they be exempt from Title IX based on various categories, including religion. According to the Department of Education, an exemption based on religion is applicable in the case that "Title IX would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization."
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These exemptions can affect LGBTQ+ students in a variety of ways. Namely, discrimination complaints brought against exempted Christian colleges and filed with the Department of Education are unlikely to be investigated. Students may experience overt discrimination, such as having admissions offers revoked, losing student housing, or being expelled if the university learns of their sexual orientation. They may also encounter subtler forms of discrimination, such as through the negative framing of certain sexual orientations or gender identities in course content.
Finding and Bolstering LGBTQ+ Support on a Christian Campus
1 Join or create an LGBTQ+ student club or community
As of 2019, slightly less than half of Christian colleges were home to officially recognized LGBTQ+ student organizations. If your school is not one of them, starting a student organization is a great way to bring like-minded students together around a topic of affinity. This can provide a community for LGBTQ+ students and help you mobilize for events and support changes you'd like to see on campus.
2 Mobilize community to include content in student handbooks specific to LGBTQ+ students
While some Christian colleges may never be entirely safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students, schools can do more to affirm and support these learners. One way to do so is to include language in university-wide student handbooks that speaks to and supports the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ students on campus. Community members can push their school's administration to make these inclusive changes.
3 Find LGBTQ+ safe spaces on campus
Many LGBTQ+-friendly campuses have LGBTQ+ centers or other gathering places for LGBTQ+ students. However, these spaces may be less common at Christian colleges, and students may need to ask whether these spaces exist. Other safe spaces may include gender-inclusive restrooms and student housing throughout campus — whether that be a gender-inclusive dorm or certain designated floors in dorms.
4 Identify and spend time with LGBTQ+ allies working on campus
While other LGBTQ+ students can provide support, you might also find allyship from counselors and faculty on campus. Finding faculty and administrative allies is particularly helpful in pushing for more meaningful change on campus, including creating physically safe spaces and inclusive university policies.
5 Push administrators to hire a university employee designated to support LGBTQ+ students (if there isn't someone already)
Many LGBTQ+-friendly campuses employ staff specifically designated to provide LGBTQ+ student support, although these workers may be less common at Christian colleges. These staff members are critical to ensuring that students have safe and academically successful experiences in college. And they can be particularly important for helping LGBTQ+ students maintain good mental health while in college.
6 Create events that celebrate Pride
Student organizations and partnerships with faculty allies can be important to creating Pride events on campus. Pride events allow the LGBTQ+ student and ally community to come together and celebrate their identities and also provide the broader university community with an opportunity to learn more about LGBTQ+ identities.
7 Seek out or create peer support groups
Campus-based support groups may be specifically related to LGBTQ+ identities, or they can intersect with other elements of students' identities. Support groups are a great way for students to build connections and share their feelings or concerns with like-minded peers, especially when it comes to things they might not feel comfortable sharing with a counselor or other support staff.