LGBTQ+ Students of Color Resource Guide

Learn about the experiences of LGBTQ+ students of color and what resources can assist them in navigating college.

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by Ciera Graham, Ph.D.

Published on September 17, 2021 · Updated on June 25, 2022

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LGBTQ+ Students of Color Resource Guide
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LGBTQ+ students of color have unique experiences. They experience alarming rates of mental health challenges and anti-LGBTQ+ violence. This resource guide highlights the experiences of LGBTQ+ students of color, the challenges they face, and tips for navigating college and life.

What Does It Mean to Be a Student of Color and LGBTQ+?

College is a time for students to build their independence and engage in self-exploration. Additionally, during this period, many LGBTQ+ students are coming out or exploring their sexual and/or gender identity for the first time. This can be a challenging experience.

Being an LGTBQ+ student and a student of color at a predominantly white campus can create feelings of isolation and loneliness. LGBTQ+ students of color are more likely to report feeling uncomfortable on campus. They also encounter higher rates of harassment than their LGBTQ+ white peers and have higher rates of suicide.

Intersectionality refers to the interconnected ways that systems of oppression can affect people because of their multiple and overlapping social identities. Many LGBTQ+ people of color are disadvantaged by prejudices against their race, gender, and sexuality. Thus, they must navigate daily experiences of racism, homophobia, and transphobia.

Living at these intersections can create many obstacles for LGBTQ+ students of color. For example, many students of color who identify as LGBTQ+ find it difficult to connect with white LGBTQ+ students or organizations. These organizations sometimes focus on singular issues, such as homophobia or transphobia, but may ignore the racism that impacts LGBTQ+ students of color.

At the same time, LGBTQ+ students of color who join affinity groups based on their ethnic, racial, or other cultural identities may experience homophobia and transphobia from those peers, leaving them feeling like they have nowhere to feel affirmed and welcome.

Given the absence of support services at many colleges to support LGBTQ+ students of color — and the unlikelihood that systemic oppression will be eliminated during their time at school — it is important that these students locate resources within their community. Students must also learn how to navigate racism, homophobia, and transphobia on their college campus.

5 Challenges LGBTQ+ Students of Color Face in College

1. Lack of Support Systems on Campus

LGBTQ+ students of color are impacted by the compounded effects of racism, homophobia, and transphobia, which causes marginalization. These students may feel that they have to choose to express only one aspect of their identity and erase or minimize other aspects of themselves in order to get by or succeed. This means feeling like they have to choose between their racial identity and their sexual and gender orientation.

Students of color express that few student organizations embrace and celebrate their identity as LGBTQ+ students of color. Not having a place that celebrates their multiple identities inhibits these students’ ability to form friendships and meet LGBTQ+ staff and faculty of color. Being involved in student organizations is extremely important for these students. Many of them may feel disconnected or estranged from their home environment, and are looking to build their community and network.

2. Stigma of Coming Out

The process of coming out is a special experience for many people, and it can be a time of liberation and freedom. However, for people of color, the coming out process can present additional difficulties.

For example, individuals from many communities of color have strong personal or religious beliefs that may stigmatize and invalidate the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ+ people. As a result, LGBTQ+ students of color with strong familial ties may feel reluctant to come out due to a fear of being neglected or disowned by their family members.

3. Compound Experiences of Racism and Anti-LGBTQ+ Violence

LGBTQ+ students of color experience racism and microaggressions from predominantly white campus cultures. They also report experiencing racism from white members of the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ social movements have largely ignored the experiences of BIPOC LGBTQ+ individuals. Many LGBTQ+ students of color also experience prejudice from members of their own racial or ethnic group.

Students also report a lack of belonging and indicate feeling unsafe. A study by Campus Pride indicates that LGBTQ+ students are almost twice as likely to be harassed than their straight peers — and that rate is higher among people of color. LGBTQ+ students of color who attend college in states with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation may experience greater hostility off-campus and are more likely to be subjected to violence and harassment.

4. Lack of Inclusive and Affirming Course Curriculum

LGBTQ+ students report that the college curriculum does not incorporate their lived identities and experiences. When students are not able to connect with the curriculum, it leads to disengagement and it may impact their academic performance.

Curriculum on LGBTQ+ issues often ignores the experience of BIPOC LGBTQ+ populations and historical figures. Anti-gay legislation has played a huge role in the lack of inclusive and affirming course curricula. In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education Law into law, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay" Law, which prevents young students from learning about different sexual and gender identities in school. With the increased outrage over teaching critical race theory in class, this also limits the amount of curricula focused on LGBTQ+ populations of color.

5. Mental Health Challenges

Similar to the larger LGBTQ+ community, LGBTQ+ students of color can experience mental health challenges. According to an analysis by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, LGBTQ+ people of color report experiencing high rates of feelings of depression, hopelessness, and anxiety. Despite the prevalence of mental health challenges, only 29% of LGBTQ+ adults of color say that they have been officially diagnosed with a depressive order by a provider, compared to 39% of LGBTQ+ adults broadly.

These challenges are exacerbated by a long history of discrimination, bias, and distrust in the medical community. LGTBQ+ adults of color report having significant gaps in health insurance and inadequate health insurance to cover the costs of regular visits with a provider.

Tips for Navigating College as an LGBTQ+ Person of Color

Evaluate the College's Diversity Statement

Although many colleges and universities have issued statements condemning racism, it takes more than words to create a climate that is free of hate crimes and discrimination.

It's important to understand how a college envisions diversity and inclusion, how it resolves incidences of discrimination, and what concrete steps it is taking to promote and support a diverse student body. Making campuses inclusive for all students can help alleviate feelings of isolation and marginalization and improve student outcomes.

Talk to Current Students

There are many factors for LGBTQ+ students to consider when choosing a college. If you have the opportunity to discuss the campus climate of a school with another current LGBTQ+ student of color, you should do so. These students may provide valuable insight into campus culture and potential challenges.

Important questions to ask include: How do other LGBTQ+ students of color meet or socialize with each other? Is there a designated campus space or organization for LGBTQ+ students of color?

Join or Start a Student Organization Focused on LGBTQ+ Students of Color

Joining a student organization is a great way for learners to feel connected to their campus environment. If your school doesn't have an LGBTQ+ student of color organization, talk with student life to find out how to start an organization or check with neighboring schools — some schools offer unaffiliated students from nearby institutions the opportunity to attend group meetings.

Organizations centered on LGBTQ+ students of color are unique because they recognize the impact of racism, homophobia, and transphobia on student experiences. Examples of these organizations include the Queer People of Color student organization at the University of Pennsylvania and the Queer People of Color Alliance at the University of Washington.

Identify Student Support Resources

With LGBTQ+ students of color experiencing the compounded effects of racism, homophobia, and transphobia, building a supportive community is critical. Finding access to funding, support groups, and community organizations can help expand their network and build self-confidence to persist in college. Many college campuses may not have adequate resources to support these students, so seeking additional off-campus resources is valuable.

Explore LGBTQ+ Resources

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Organizations and Resources for LGBTQ+ Students of Color

Here are five resources for LGBTQ+ students of color:

This network is committed to providing resources, access, and advocacy for queer and trans people of color. The network provides a mental health directory of therapists of color, and they have a mental health fund to assist with healthcare funding costs. This organization provides advocacy, leadership training, activism, and economic empowerment for transgender and gender-nonconforming communities of color. The three areas that this organization has focused on are: building leadership competencies for LGBTQ+ adults of color, establishing and sustaining a mental health and education fund, and organizing marches and protests focused on issues impacting LGTBQ+ adults of color. This is a grassroots effort focused on Black and transgender women. The fund provides financial support for people who need travel assistance. They are committed to providing access to safer travel options. Rest for Resistance provides mental health and self-care tips and resources for queer people of color. This coalition advocates and provides support resources for Latino/a transgender populations. They engage in policy-related changes and lead campaigns in local communities to address the challenges impacting Latino/a transgender populations.