More Than One Third of Gay College Students Experienced Harassment in Past Year

May 06, 2003

Half conceal sexual orientation to avoid intimidation, 43% call their campus homophobic

"...‘coming out' to my adviser would destroy my academic career."

"...people in passing cars have screamed ‘faggot' at me."

"I think the administration can do more to enforce safety & policies that will help GLBT students..."

- Responses to the Campus Climate Assessment Survey

May 6, 2003, New York, NY - With students and professors finishing up final exams and incoming college freshman finalizing their college plans, today the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) Policy Institute released the largest-ever study of the climate on U.S. college campuses toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) students, faculty and staff. Campus Climate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People: A National Perspective, authored by Dr. Susan R. Rankin, found that more than one in three GLBT undergraduate students have experienced anti-gay harassment within the past year. Almost 1700 students, faculty, administrators and staff in 14 colleges and universities throughout the country were surveyed for the report.

"It is extremely alarming that, in 2003, people on college campuses continue to experience anti-GLBT harassment," said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Lorri L. Jean. "Higher learning institutions should be at the forefront of educating people about the damage of homophobic and transphobic acts. Because most of the fourteen universities surveyed provide visible support through pro-GLBT policies and resources, we can only imagine the extent of homophobia on college campuses across the country."

Campus Climate reveals that almost a fifth of respondents had feared for their physical safety in the last year because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 43 percent considered the climate of their campus to be homophobic.

Other findings include:

- 41 percent of the respondents stated that their college/university was not addressing issues related to sexual orientation or gender identity;
- 51 percent of the respondents concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid intimidation; and,
- 71 percent felt that transgender people were likely to suffer harassment, and 61 percent felt that gay men and lesbians were likely to be harassed.

"While there have been significant improvements over the past decade, clearly harassment and bias are still major concerns for GLBT students, faculty and staff," said Dr. Sean Cahill, NGLTF Policy Institute Director. "Almost all of the universities that agreed to participate in the survey have sexual orientation nondiscrimination policies and/or GLBT campus centers. However, most of the United States' more than 5,500 colleges and universities don't have such policies or programs in effect."

While most universities and colleges publicly commit to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, their actions and policies often do not support these goals. In March 2003, Virginia Tech's governing board voted to eliminate its affirmative action policy and to remove sexual orientation from its nondiscrimination policy. When Virginia Tech students and staff protested, the university reinstated both policies.

An April 24, 2003 story in the California San Diego Union-Tribune reported that frustrated by a resurgence of racially and sexually motivated incidents, dozens of University of San Diego students and faculty walked out of classes and urged the administration to address anti-gay, racist and anti-Semitic sentiments on campus. Recent incidents cited by the paper included anti-gay graffiti scratched on a student's apartment door. The University of Southern California's Pridefest has been marred by anti-gay vandalism in recent years. And activists at universities across the country complain that signs for GLBT student activities are regularly ripped down and covered with anti-GLBT graffiti.

"Many GLBT campus members find that they must hide significant parts of their identity, thereby isolating themselves socially or emotionally," said Dr. Susan R. Rankin, Campus Climate author and lead researcher. "Those who do not hide their sexual orientation or gender identity have a range of experiences including discrimination, verbal or physical harassment, and subtle or outright silencing. While higher education provides a variety of opportunities for students and others, these are greatly limited for those who fear for their safety, feel they must censor themselves, or are denied opportunities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Rankin, a Senior Diversity Planning Analyst at the Pennsylvania State University. "We hope this report will assist educators, activists, student leaders and elected officials in making universities safer and more accepting of GLBT people."

Campus Climate makes policy recommendations to universities and colleges that are seeking to create a truly inclusive environment that supports and values all, including:

- Extending employee spousal benefits to domestic partners;
- Including sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in the institution's nondiscrimination clause;
- Integrating GLBT concerns into university documents/publications;
- Providing a clear, safe, visible means of reporting acts of intolerance and responding expeditiously to such acts; and,
- Including sexual orientation and gender identity issues in orientation programs and employee trainings.

The Campus Climate Assessment Survey, which serves as the basis for this report, was a collaborative project involving NGLTF, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and the National Consortium of Directors of LGBT Resources in Higher Education.

Dr. Rankin and Dr. Cahill are available for media interviews.

Campus Climate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People: A National Perspective is available as a PDF download at the NGLTF Publications Library. Other recent NGLTF Policy Institute reports, also available on the NGLTF website, are:
Family Policy: Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Families; The 2000 Census and Same-Sex Households: A User's Guide; Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud; Black Pride Survey 2000; Leaving Our Children Behind: Welfare Reform and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community; Social Discrimination and Health: The Case of Latino Gay Men and HIV Risk; and Transgender Equality: A Handbook for Activists and Policymakers.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.