Resisting LGBTQ+ Discrimination and Violence in College

LGBTQ+ students face discrimination and violence in college. Learn how you can stand up for yourself and fight discrimination.

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by Greta Pano

Updated September 23, 2022

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Resisting LGBTQ+ Discrimination and Violence in College
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The average student might choose a college based on cost and location. But for LGBTQ+ students, choosing the wrong college could put them in more physical danger than they may face already. Despite the strides in equality over the past few decades, discrimination against LGBTQ+ people continues on campuses.

According to a UCLA School of Law survey, approximately one-third of LGBTQ+ students experienced bullying, harassment, or assault at college. In addition, LGBTQ+ students experienced specific forms of harassment at least twice as often as non-LGBTQ+ students.

You shouldn't have to worry about your safety while getting your education. However, if you do face harassment and violence, here's how to protect yourself and what to do.

How to Protect Yourself Against LGBTQ+ Discrimination and Violence on Campus

Students come from varying backgrounds and have drastically different opinions. Frustratingly, this may include prejudices. However, colleges can foster a culture of understanding and inclusion through their policies, resource and health centers, inclusive housing, and allies found in faculty and administrators.

Here's how you can be proactive.

1. Attend a Safer School for LGBTQ+ Students

While LGBTQ+ students used to hide their sexual and gender identities, many campuses have become safer places for students to express their true selves. These colleges train faculty, staff, and students to create inclusive environments and uphold policies that protect students from gender and sexual orientation discrimination.

Still, there are campuses that some LGBTQ+ individuals may want to avoid. You can identify the worst campuses for LGBTQ+ pride by:

2. Know Your Rights

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in any school or college that receives federal student aid. The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has stated that it will enforce this law to include gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination.

3. Learn Your School's Policies

One of the best ways to defend yourself against gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination is by getting to know the policies at your school. Many colleges and universities will have an anti-discrimination policy listed on their website. Learning the policies can better help you seek remedy or corrective action when addressing discrimination.

Students can also contact the appropriate office on campus, which may include the compliance, equal opportunity, civil rights, and/or Title IX offices. Knowledge is power, and understanding your rights will prepare you for defending yourself and others.

4. Find or Make Community in College

LGBTQ+ centers found on many college campuses support the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ students by providing access to resources and counselors. Gender-inclusive housing, housing that allows students of any sex or gender identity to live together, can provide a sense of community for LGBTQ+ students.

If there is a lack of LGBTQ+ friendly student organizations and spaces on campus, it may be possible to start one by seeking faculty and administrators who can guide you.

Other options for creating community include making guides to LGBTQ+ friendly spaces on campus and seeking out or starting LGBTQ+ groups through social media.

5. Know When to Fight Back

If facing immediate danger or violence, attempt to stay aware of your surroundings and the situation. What this means can vary. For example, some find it best to stay calm, while others might use phrases like hypervigilance or alertness to describe their state. Ideally, you can de-escalate the situation, which can include removing yourself from the situation.

If you are not someone who experiences additional risk from exposure to law enforcement and first responders who may collaborate with immigration authorities, you may wish to call 911. If possible, record what is happening. However, if you are in a situation that does not appear to put your life at risk, it may be appropriate to stand up for yourself or others.

For instance, if a professor or student in class does not respect your preferred pronouns, you could address them directly or seek out LGBTQ+ resources and staff on campus to help you speak with them. Remember, it is not your responsibility to educate the harasser — student affairs administrators can do this for you.

What to Do When You Face LGBTQ+ Discrimination in College

Even if you take every precaution, discrimination against LGBTQ+ students still happens. Here's how to mitigate these incidents and seek justice.

1. Identify Your Rights

The first step to defending yourself when facing gender identity or sexual orientation discrimination is understanding your rights under the law and school policies.

You can research anti-discrimination and Title IX policies on the school's website. You may also want to contact the student affairs office and ask for information on the school's policies on discrimination against LGBTQ+ students.

Once you know the laws and policies that apply, you can strategize how to make the change you can advocate for through the school.

2. Document Everything

When proving discrimination or any legal case, having as much evidence of the incident as possible is useful. This could be emails, phone messages, social media posts or messages, and testimony from a witness with firsthand knowledge of the situation.

Video and audio recordings may be useful, but be careful — recording someone without their consent is illegal in some states, so you can't use it as evidence in court.

3. Report the Discrimination Through the Proper Channels

Colleges will have information for reporting discrimination listed on their website. There may be an online form for students to fill out or information on where to go to file a complaint, such as the Title IX office.

Depending on where the incident took place (classroom, housing, off campus, etc.), there may be different options for reporting. If you don't know where to go or who to file a report with, you may want to start with a trusted professor or go directly to the dean of students.

4. Contact an Attorney or Advocacy Organization

If the college administration is unresponsive to your experience, it is a good idea to get legal assistance or file a complaint with an organization outside of school. The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education will investigate appropriate complaints and work towards resolution outside of court.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a reputable non-profit organization committed to fighting LGBTQ+ discrimination. Lambda Legal provides contacts for legal assistance specifically for LGBTQ+ individuals. These organizations will likely inform the college of your rights and urge them to uphold them, threatening legal action if they do not.

5. Sue Your University for Discrimination

If the college doesn't resolve your discrimination complaint, you may have to seek legal recourse, ideally with a lawyer who specializes in student and/or LGBTQ+ rights.

In March 2021, 33 students at religious colleges and universities filed a discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education. The students who have endured LGBTQ+ discrimination at their various colleges or universities state that the religious exemption to anti-discrimination policies at their schools is unconstitutional, particularly because they receive government funding.

What to Do When You Face LGBTQ+ Violence in College

In the worst circumstances, LGBTQ+ discrimination can turn into physical violence. These steps can help you protect yourself and others in a physically threatening situation.

1. Get to Safety

Your physical safety comes first when faced with a threatening or violent situation. Do your best to remain calm and do not confront the person, as this may escalate the situation. The best recourse when dealing with violence on campus is to escape or hide.

2. Call for Help

Many college or university campuses have their own police department or safety officers that can respond to you quickly if someone hurts you or is trying to hurt you. Some schools have their own apps you can downloadthat provide quick ways to seek assistance. Remember to call 911 if you're in immediate danger. However, if you do not think law enforcement would help to de-escalate the situation or that doing so would put you in even more danger, call a peer or someone from your campus network to help bring you to safety.

3. Document Everything

If it does not meaningfully increase the danger you are in, record the incident as much as you can. If you can't use video, use audio. If you can't record on your device, consider starting a call to a friend or even starting a livestream. When you have gotten to safety, try to write down or otherwise record the details of the incident so that you have an accurate description of what occurred to give to those helping you address the situation. Include:

You should also photograph any injuries you sustained and have witnesses write down what they saw happen.

4. Get a Restraining Order

When dealing with harassment, stalking, threats, or violence, you may need to file a restraining order to stop the harasser. A restraining order is a court order that requires someone to stay away from you and stop harassing you.

You can fill out a form on your state's department of justice website or obtain one in person from the courthouse in your county. You do not need a lawyer to file a restraining order, but some may choose to do so if they have the resources.

5. Use Campus Protections if They're Available

Some options to escape harassment and violent situations on campus include:

The Access to Higher Education Survey by the Williams Institute shows that LGBTQ+ students are three times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ students to report that their mental health was an issue while they were in college.

Counseling services are essential to supporting the mental health needs of LGBTQ+ students and can be found on most campuses, if not all. Ideally, your school will provide specific LGBTQ+ counseling services, but this is not always the case. The Trevor Project, which specifically supports LGBTQ+ youth, has trained counselors you can call, text, or online chat with 24/7.