10 Biggest Stressors LGBTQ+ College Students Face

Read this article to learn about the major stressors LGBTQ+ students face on and off college campuses.

portrait of Bernard Grant, Ph.D.
by Bernard Grant, Ph.D.

Published on May 18, 2022 · Updated on June 27, 2022

Reviewed by Angelique Geehan

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10 Biggest Stressors LGBTQ+ College Students Face
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Nearly a quarter of reported hate crimes were due to a sexual orientation bias, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. This may explain why about one-third of LGBTQ+ students reported that their depression affected their ability to complete their studies, according to Purdue University.

Due to homophobia, transphobia, depression, and isolation, LGBTQ+ students commonly consider dropping out of college. More than a quarter of queer-spectrum students and 37.8% of trans students considered dropping out of college.

These numbers are about double that of heterosexual and cisgender students who had also considered dropping out of college. Read on to learn about some of the biggest stressors LGBTQ+ college students face.

1. Discrimination and Harassment

Homophobia and transphobia pervade many college campuses, resulting in discrimination and neglect.

LGBTQ+ students at these institutions face discrimination and harassment from peers who don't accept atypical sexual and gender identities. College faculty and staff can also discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.

The lack of representation in faculty and administration, and LGBTQ+ resources available on many campuses directly impact students' sense of belonging. Gender-inclusive facilities include gender-neutral restrooms and campus housing, where students choose to live in shared spaces with people of all gender identities.

2. Financial Stress

LGBTQ+ adults in the U.S. earn less than their cisgender and straight peers. According to a Human Rights Campaign Foundation analysis, LGBTQ+ men earn 4% less than the typical worker, while LGBTQ+ women earn 13% less. Trans men and nonbinary workers earn 70 cents for every dollar the typical worker earns. Transgender women, who earn 60 cents to the dollar, report the largest wage gap.

LGBTQ+ students might also not receive their parents' financial support when attending college, deepening the financial burden they face. The difficulty many trans people face when pursuing student loans adds additional financial pressure, often increasing these earning gaps.

3. Anti-Trans Laws

America's abundance of anti-transgender bills negatively influences transgender and nonbinary students' mental health. In 2021, more than 30 states introduced over 100 anti-trans bills.

According to data from The Trevor Project, 85% of trans and nonbinary youth reported that the debates around anti-trans bills worsened their mental health. These bills have criminalized doctors for providing gender-affirming healthcare and have banned trans athletes from participating in sports.

College administrations can support trans students by examining how their institutions perpetuate gender binaries — via policies, curricula, and even the faculty and employees they hire.

4. Anti-LGBTQ+ Policies

In 2022, lawmakers proposed 238 anti-LGBTQ+ bills. If passed, these discriminatory bills will limit the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans — including those in college. These anti-LGBTQ+ bills would place restrictions on LGBTQ+ educational content and trans athletes and would allow religious institutions to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.

Other impacts of these bills include limitations on gender-neutral bathrooms and gender-affirming healthcare. This puts LGBTQ+ students at risk of sexual assault, violence, and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, according to the Religious Exemption Accountability Project.

5. Being Out On Campus

Many LGBTQ+ students mask their queerness to survive hostile, exclusionary environments. Code-switching, a term used by many members of the LGBTQ+ community to describe this masking, is when a person changes their behavior to fit into a particular cultural group. In this case, LGBTQ+ students would code-switch to appear cisgender and straight.

Someone may, for example, speak in a more masculine voice or wear clothes that adhere to traditional gender expectations despite deep physical and psychological discomfort.

Hiding queerness is, for many, a form of managing safety. It allows students to avoid homophobic and transphobic comments and dangerous confrontations with bigoted students, faculty, and administration members.

Many LGBTQ+ individuals describe code-switching as exhausting, as they pretend to be someone other than themself for extended periods.

6. Being Out At Home

Many LGBTQ+ students prefer college environments because their family and community members elsewhere haven't accepted their unique identities.

LGBTQ+ students who don't hide their queer identities have been kicked out of their homes and have lost familial support and relationships, including the loss of health insurance and other financial support.

Some LGBTQ+ students come out only after moving away from home due to these unsupportive environments. Others come out at college because moving away from home for school gave them the space to discover their queerness.

7. Lack of Community On Campus

LGBTQ+ students might lose crucial support systems when they go to college. Social isolation commonly causes LGBTQ+ students to feel like outsiders.

Social isolation often results from not having anyone to talk to about sexual and gender identity. Without access to LGBTQ+ information, peers, and role models, queer students may hear only negative comments about queerness and may feel the need to conceal their identities.

These feelings of isolation can cause mental health conditions and increase academic challenges. At many colleges, LGBTQ+ students lack access to social networks and programs, as well as gender-affirming healthcare that may help them experience their identities more authentically.

8. The Pandemic

The uncertainty caused by pandemic closures also caused many LGBTQ+ students to experience increased stress, isolation, and other mental health concerns. Many students who returned to unsafe home environments returned to being "closeted" — hiding their queerness — so they could maintain their sense of safety.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic affected LGBTQ+ students who couldn't access public agencies like social security offices and the DMV. The closures of these offices required many LBGTQ+ students seeking to change names or gender markers to postpone their hearings.

Some students also postponed gender-affirming surgeries, even those whose college health insurance plans provided these surgeries. In some cases, this was a result of not being able to use their insurance plans when returning home.

9. Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is when a person feels distressed due to existing as the gender they were assigned at birth, according to NurseJournal.

Gender dysphoria can contribute to mental health conditions for trans and nonbinary students if they can't live in alignment with their gender identity. Treatment options include hormone therapy, gender confirmation surgery, and psychotherapy.

10. Seeking Medical Care

Discrimination creates barriers for LGBTQ+ students who seek medical care. LGBTQ+ students commonly dread visiting medical professionals. No one in need of medical care should need to worry about mistreatment or denial of services. But LGBTQ+ students regularly confront these challenges when they seek healthcare.

Students are, however, protected by The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a law enacted in March 2010. The ACA protects gender identity and prohibits healthcare providers and insurance companies from discriminating against LGBTQ+ patients in healthcare settings. The ACA also expanded the Medicaid program and lowered health insurance costs for low-income households.

Explore LGBTQ+ Resources

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Additional Resources

This nonprofit organization provides 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. Students can call, chat online, or text to speak to trained counselors. This organization serves LGBTQ+ writers and readers by promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer literature. Lambda believes queer literature is "fundamental to the preservation of our culture." This youth-led organization uses advocacy and empowerment to transform educational settings into environments that are inclusive to trans and gender-nonconforming students. PFLAG has over 400 chapters across the United States and supports LGBTQ+ communities with advocacy tools, resources, and events. Founded by a group of teachers in 1990, GLSEN has over 43 chapters in 30 U.S. states. GLSEN's original research informs their solutions to improve educational environments for LGBTQ+ youth.

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