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What does an LGBTQ+ friendly university look like?

By Laura L

Updated March 8, 2022 Updated March 8, 2022

When you’re researching study options, how do you know if a university will really make you feel like you belong?  

To create an environment that is welcoming to all students including the LGBTQ+ community, universities must take a pro-active approach to ensure sure that diversity is accepted, respected and celebrated, and most importantly that students feel safe. 

For Gabriëlla, a criminology student at Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam, feeling accepted and included is an important part of university life.  

“It can be distracting when you feel stressed about how people see you or how you might be treated or addressed because of your identity,” she said. “Knowing you can be yourself means you can focus on your studies, work hard and bring all your ideas to the table.” 

Learning what a university has to offer for LGBTQ+ students is a good place to start, and a helpful way to figure out the questions you need to ask when attending open days and speaking to students. 

We spoke to Gabriëlla and artificial intelligence student Kai, both members of VU Amsterdam’s LGBTQ+ network, to find out what to look for to learn if a university is truly LGBTQ+ friendly. 

What student networks and events are there? 

Does the university have an LGBTQ+ or Pride network that acts as a space to meet with others in the community, receive advice and support, attend social events and hear talks on LGBTQ+ issues? 

Kai joined their university’s Pride network when they started a master’s degree during the COVID-19 pandemic. "It was important for me because I didn’t have any other ways to meet queer students at the time. To have that peer support was incredible for me throughout my degree.  

“The VU Pride network provided a space for me to meet people who were further along their gender identity journey than me and who could speak from a place of confidence which reassured me a lot.” 

Are LGBTQ+ students listened to? 

A key role for LGBTQ+ networks is to provide a voice for students and staff in the community to raise important issues. A university that wants to create an inclusive environment will work with the LGBTQ+ network to understand how they can make progressive change across the institution.   

“Knowing there is a connection between the LGBTQ+ community and the university helps us to feel like our voices are being heard and that changes are being made,” Gabriëlla said. “Having gender-neutral toilets and spaces on campus is wonderful, but even the smallest changes can help to make people feel welcome and accepted. We provide guides to help academics when they need to split their classes into groups without using traditional genders.” 

What support services are available for LGBTQ+ students? 

All universities provide support services for students like medical help, mental health and wellbeing support, disability support, chaplaincy and more. There might not be LGBTQ+ specific support services, but is the university equipped to understand the issues faced by students in the LGBTQ+ community? 

Gabriëlla feels thankful that she knows her university will support her during her studies. “Receiving help from people who understand how to be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community or can signpost to appropriate resources makes me feel safe and that my issues are valid” she said.  

What LGBTQ+ scholarships are available? 

LGBTQ+ scholarships can provide students in the LGBTQ+ community with opportunities to thrive in their careers. Scholarships could be as simple as a grant, or they could include further support and mentorship to help students reach their full potential.  

If a university offers, or is associated with, LGBTQ+ funding, it’s a sign that they value diversity within their student body and want to invest in your future.  

Does the university offer LGBTQ+ careers advice? 

Companies are working to be more inclusive and diverse when it comes to recruitment, but the right support isn’t always available as an employee. Gabriëlla and Kai believe that having access to careers advisors who understand the challenges faced by queer people in the workplace could help.  

“I think it would be helpful to have guidance on how to deal with uncomfortable situations in the workplace and how to know whether a company will embrace and support you before you take the job,” Kai said.  

“I’d also be keen to see more LGBTQ+ tailored mentoring so that students could see people in the community thriving and finding success for themselves. It’s a confidence boost.”  

What policies are there to ensure the protection and safety of LGBTQ+ students? 

One of the most important factors when considering whether a university is LGBTQ+ friendly is to find out whether there are specific policies in place for the protection and safety of its students and staff.  

Knowing that your university has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the harassment or mistreatment of any of its students, especially those from minority groups, is fundamental to feeling safe. 

Lieneke Luit, a program coordinator for VU Pride, said: "VU Pride is a key contact point for all LGBTQIA+ students and employees at VU Amsterdam facing issues around their sexual or gender identity. We'll always refer people to more appropriate help when needed, like the Social Safety team."

Are there any LGBTQ+ identifying staff? 

Are there academics and other staff members who openly identify as LGBTQ+ at the university? For both Gabriëlla and Kai, seeing queer staff who are comfortable with being open about their sexuality or gender is a good indicator that you can be your full self in the classroom. 

“I work with a non-binary professor in the VU Pride network and to see that they feel safe and comfortable being out in their workplace makes me feel reassured that I can be myself here too,” Kai said.  

Has the university been active in academic research around LGBTQ+ issues? 

Another way to see how important LGBTQ+ issues are to a university is via academic research. If Kai was applying to university again and attending an open day, they would take an interest in the research that a university is undertaking to better understand LGBTQ+ issues.  

“What impact is that research having on people within the community and how does that work feed into students’ learning on different courses when it comes to addressing LGBTQ+ experiences and perspectives?” Kai added.  

How successfully does the university amplify and embrace diverse voices?    

“I think that the way a university approaches equality and inclusion overall is telling,” Kai said. “Students want different things from university life depending on how they identify. Somebody might not choose to engage in LGBTQ+ committees or social events but knowing that their university really cares about making safe spaces and inclusive experiences for their whole student body, that’s going to make the difference.” 

How welcoming is your study destination to LGBTQ+ students?

Not all university life is spent on campus, so having a grasp of the demographics within a city can be an important part of your university decision making too.

Gabriëlla recommends doing some research into how liberal the city is when it comes to accepting and embracing people from diverse backgrounds. “Will you feel safe and comfortable living in a city of your chosen university? That can make an enormous difference to your experience as a student in the LGBTQ+ community.”  

This article was originally published in February 2022 . It was last updated in March 2022

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Written by

As Senior Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Laura publishes articles for our student audience around the world, working with ambassadors and alumni to provide helpful content to those looking for study options. Laura has six years' experience in Higher Education marketing and writing for a student audience. 

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