LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges, Trade Schools, and Cities: Where to Thrive
Are you a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer or questioning (LGBTQ) student who wants to find a college where you'll feel safe, accepted, and comfortable? You absolutely can. America is home to many LGBTQ-friendly colleges and vocational schools. In fact, students like you are welcome on diverse campuses throughout the country.
After all, you're not alone. More than 13 percent of undergraduate students in the U.S. identify as being part of the LGBTQ community.1 So a growing number of colleges, universities, and trade schools are adopting policies that are more inclusive of people with different sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. They are creating and supporting educational and social environments where students can feel free to be who they really are.
Here's the deal: Other websites (such as the Campus Pride Index) have lists of the best traditional four-year colleges and universities for LGBTQ students. But they tend to overlook good options for students who need greater convenience and more direct paths to new career opportunities. That's why this article focuses primarily on career-oriented schools in LGBTQ-friendly metropolitan areas. You'll learn about:
- 26 LGBTQ-friendly career colleges and trade schools
- 28 LGBTQ-friendly cities
- The least LGBTQ-friendly colleges
- How to thrive as an LGBTQ student
For the sake of simplicity and consistency, this article uses "LGBTQ" to represent the full spectrum of non-hetero sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. Even though your chosen identifier may not be explicitly represented in this article, the content is still meant for you.
26 LGBTQ-Friendly Career Colleges and Trade Schools
Whether they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, students within the LGBTQ community don't have to limit themselves to traditional college and university campuses. In fact, for many students, going to a vocational school is often a better option, especially if the school is located in an LGBTQ-friendly urban area. (Larger cities tend to be more welcoming of people with different sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions than smaller cities or isolated towns.)
Most trade schools and career colleges are located in or around large urban centers where LGBTQ people generally feel more accepted and have easier access to the support, resources, and social opportunities they need. Plus, these kinds of career-oriented schools tend to offer added benefits such as:
- Convenient class times (including weekend and evening options)
- Short programs with streamlined, hands-on training
- One-on-one attention in small classes
- Assistance with your job search
The vocational schools below all have campuses in or near one or more LGBTQ-friendly metropolitan areas that have received perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Municipal Equality Index. These schools also have non-discrimination and/or anti-harassment policies that explicitly mention gender identity and/or gender expression—in addition to sexual orientation. (When schools make the effort to use all of those terms in their policies, it's a sign that they value full inclusiveness and want to protect every student's right to an education and a safe and welcoming learning environment.)
Check out these LGBTQ-friendly vocational schools and the types of programs they offer:
- Altierus Career College—Health care, skilled trades, and information technology
- American Career College—Health care
- American National University—Business, health care, and information technology
- Brookline College—Health care, business, legal studies, and criminal justice
- Bryan University—Business, legal studies, health care, and fitness
- California College San Diego—Business, health care, and information technology
- City College—Health care, legal studies, and media
- CollegeAmerica—Health care, business, and information technology
- Coyne College—Skilled trades and health care
- Dorsey Schools—Beauty, health care, skilled trades, and culinary arts
- Eastwick College—Health care, skilled trades, business, culinary arts, and technology
- Empire Beauty Schools—Cosmetology and esthetics
- Florida Career College—Health care, business, cosmetology, information technology, and skilled trades
- Full Sail University—Arts, media, entertainment, and technology
- HoHoKus School of Trade & Technical Sciences—Skilled trades
- Keiser University—Health care, legal studies, criminal justice, business, information technology, culinary arts, design, psychology, education, and sciences
- Lansdale School of Business—Health care, business, and computer technologies
- Marine Mechanics Institute—Boat repair, maintenance, and service
- Mildred Elley—Business, health care, paralegal studies, information technology, and beauty and wellness
- Motorcycle Mechanics Institute—Motorcycle repair, maintenance, and service
- Northwestern Technological Institute—HVAC technology
- Southern Careers Institute—Skilled trades, health care, information technology, business, and cosmetology
- Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology—Aviation maintenance, repair, testing, and trades
- UEI College—Health care and skilled trades
- Universal Technical Institute—Automotive repair, maintenance, and refinishing
- West Coast University—Health care
28 LGBTQ-Friendly Cities
What makes a city a good place for queer, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay college students? All kinds of factors contribute to LGBTQ people feeling safe and accepted. For example, as part of its Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the Human Rights Campaign Foundation judges cities based on factors like:
- The inclusiveness of their non-discrimination laws
- The services they offer to LGBTQ people
- The benefits they offer to LGBTQ municipal employees
- How well their law enforcement agencies engage with the LGBTQ community and report hate crimes
- Their overall relationship with the LGBTQ population
Cities of all sizes have received good MEI scores. But the following list only includes the 28 cities that: 1) have received perfect MEI scores, 2) are among the 50 largest metropolitan areas in America, and 3) have the highest population percentages of LGBTQ people.2, 3 (In these cities, you'll have greater access to good resources, community groups, and LGBTQ-friendly bars, clubs, restaurants, stores, and services.)
Here's how the perfect-scoring metro areas rank based on the percentage of LGBTQ people in their populations:3
1. San Francisco, California—6.2 percent
2. Austin, Texas—5.4 percent
3. Seattle, Washington—4.8 percent
4. Boston, Massachusetts—4.8 percent
5. Los Angeles, California—4.6 percent
6. Denver, Colorado—4.6 percent
7. Louisville, Kentucky—4.5 percent
8. Providence, Rhode Island—4.4 percent
9. Las Vegas, Nevada—4.3 percent
10. Columbus, Ohio—4.3 percent
11. Atlanta, Georgia—4.2 percent
12. Orlando, Florida—4.1 percent
13. St. Petersburg, Florida—4.1 percent
14. Phoenix, Arizona—4.1 percent
15. Jersey City, New Jersey—4 percent
16. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—3.9 percent
17. Baltimore, Maryland—3.9 percent
18. Detroit, Michigan—3.9 percent
19. Sacramento, California—3.9 percent
20. San Diego, California—3.9 percent
21. Chicago, Illinois—3.8 percent
22. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas—3.8 percent
23. Kansas City, Missouri—3.6 percent
24. Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota—3.6 percent
25. St. Louis, Missouri—3.6 percent
26. San Jose, California—3.2 percent
27. Cincinnati, Ohio—3.2 percent
28. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—3 percent
The Least LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges
Great progress has been made on most campuses throughout America. Unfortunately, not all colleges are so accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students. There are still educational institutions that, as a matter of principle, don't protect the rights of students with different sexual orientations, gender expressions, or gender identities. In fact, some institutions actively discriminate against such students and oppose the cause of equal rights.
For students who identify as LGBTQ, colleges that are affiliated with religious denominations are often among the least welcoming of all. However, this is certainly not the rule. Some Christian colleges strive to be inclusive and accepting of LGBTQ students, even if they don't explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity in their non-discrimination policies. They aim to respect and protect LBGTQ students while still holding to their religious values. And, of course, some Christian and Catholic colleges also offer good online programs, which can be beneficial for students who want to avoid potential social challenges on campus.
Here's one reason why a lot of religion-affiliated colleges are considered unwelcoming by LGBTQ students and organizations: Many Christian colleges throughout the country have asked for (and received) exemptions from federal laws that are designed to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sex and gender. (Again, this isn't true of all Christian colleges. There are exceptions.)
Beginning in the Obama administration, the Department of Education—backed by several court cases—expanded its interpretation of "sex" and "gender" to include sexual orientation and gender identity. And new court cases continue to support a legal consensus that defines those terms in the same way.
However, until the Supreme Court rules in favor of all LGBTQ students—or until "sexual orientation," "gender identity," and "gender expression" are explicitly included in new federal non-discrimination laws that schools can't be exempted from—some colleges will continue to push back against what they view as "immoral" or "invasive" regulations. They claim that "religious freedom" gives them the right to discriminate against LGBTQ students.
In addition to requesting and/or receiving exemptions from non-discrimination laws, many (but definitely not all) religion-affiliated colleges have done things like:
- Banned on-campus LGBTQ clubs and groups
- Opposed LGBTQ student advocates
- Denied equal opportunities to LGBTQ students
- Expelled gay, lesbian, or bisexual students who came out
- Banned same-sex relationships
- Placed gay or lesbian students in so-called "conversion therapy"
- Pressured staff to affiliate themselves with anti-LGBTQ groups or coalitions that promote "biblical sexuality"
- Worked against proposed state laws that would protect LGBTQ students from harassment and discrimination
How to Thrive as an LGBTQ Student
There's no question that being a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer student can come with challenges. But you deserve to feel safe, welcome, and respected. You deserve to get your education and live your life without fear, harassment, discrimination, or social isolation. Simply put, you deserve to flourish. Here's how to improve the odds that you actually will:
1. Be proud of who are.
Never apologize for the way you were born. Your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is exactly as it should be. Anyone who says otherwise isn't someone whose opinion matters. Don't ever waver from being your authentic self.
2. Look for the things that make a school LGBTQ-friendly.
As this article has already mentioned, it's easier to have a good social life if you live and go to school in a larger city. So when you explore your college options, urban campuses are a good place to start. In addition, look for schools that have or support things like:
- Resource centers and/or peer-mentoring programs for LGBTQ students
- Official policies that explicitly forbid harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity
- A proven track record of hate prevention and campus safety
- On-campus LGBTQ-themed events or other awareness initiatives
- Courses that include LGBTQ-related content
- Clubs, organizations, and support groups for LGBTQ students
- LGBTQ faculty members who are out on campus
- LGBTQ student recruitment programs
- Special housing options for LGBTQ students
- School-sponsored social media groups for the LGBTQ community
3. Pursue scholarships for LGBTQ students.
Perform a search on Google for "LGBTQ scholarships" and you'll discover that a huge range of schools and organizations award free financial aid to eligible students in the LGBTQ community. Plus, if you're at least 18 years old, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives you the right to request that your scholarship applications and awards remain private, which is helpful if you haven't come out yet. In addition, some LGBTQ scholarships are designed to protect your privacy even if you're under 18. So it's worth exploring all of the possibilities and applying for as many scholarships as you may be eligible for.
4. Surround yourself with people who support you.
Making friends in college is vital. You need a network of caring people you trust—people who can provide comfort and understanding during any challenging times (especially if you are just starting to come out). So don't hesitate to seek out other LGBTQ students or allies. Participate in clubs and events where you feel accepted. Try new things. And seek help from a counselor when you need it, especially if you're trying to cope with depression or anxiety.
Also, remember that you can always reach out to the LGBT National Help Center. You can even direct some of your family or friends to PFLAG if they want to know how to provide better support to you and the LGBTQ community. And did you know that many LGBTQ student groups secretly operate at Christian colleges throughout America? You can find them by contacting Safety Net.
5. Support other students who deserve equal protection.
By standing in solidarity with people from other minority or marginalized groups, you can greatly expand your network of support. So don't be afraid to advocate for non-LGBTQ students who may be feeling harassed or discriminated against. And don't overlook those who may be minorities within the LGBTQ community itself. For example, many people believe that LGBTQ should be expanded to LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied). Intersex and asexual students are just as deserving of a safe and welcoming college experience as everyone else.
6. Don't forget about online learning as an option.
You have the right to an on-campus education if that's what you want. But maybe you live far away from an LGBTQ-friendly campus and don't have the financial means—or freedom from family or other obligations—that you need in order to relocate. Or maybe you just want to focus on your studies without feeling like you need to become socially involved on a campus. Either way, you can still get a good education. A huge variety of online programs are available. And they are growing in number every year.
Move Forward With Pride and Confidence
America is home to a wide array of LGBTQ-friendly colleges, universities, and trade schools. So grab hold of the opportunities and keep believing in yourself. To get a better idea of the types of vocational programs available near you, just enter your zip code in the school finder below!
1 American College Health Association, American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Undergraduate Student Reference Group Data Report Fall 2017, website last visited on September 13, 2018.
2 Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Municipal Equality Index 2017, website last visited on September 13, 2018.
3 Gallup, "San Francisco Metro Area Ranks Highest in LGBT Percentage," website last visited on September 13, 2018.