Individuals who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (GLBT) tend to report that college campuses are less than fully comfortable places and that they are often fearful of harassment and physical violence. Verbal harassment of such students is extremely common, and physical aggression against them also occurs regularly. Students often report having to hide their identities to feel safe and to avoid intimidation. Violent incidents have been reported in a wide range of schools, including the Ivy League, large state universities, historically black colleges, community colleges, and religious institutions.
Studies indicate that harassment, threats, and violence are commonly directed at college students who are thought to be gay or lesbian. Nearly 5% of gay students report being a victim of a physical assault during their college years, and 16% to 26% indicate that they have been threatened with physical assault during their time on campus. This incidence appears to mirror the rates of anti-gay violence in the larger society. According to FBI statistics, reports of hate crimes based on sexual orientation increased nearly 11% in 2008. It appears that being perceived as gay or lesbian by others is more closely related to harassment than actual sexual orientation. Therefore, students who are more gender atypical in their appearance, who acknowledge their sexual orientation earlier, or who are more open in their orientation are more vulnerable to harassment and attack.
In San Francisco, a survey found that offenses against LGBT students by their peers were very common on community college campuses. Nearly one-third (32%) of male community college students admitted to verbal harassment against someone whom they thought was gay, with 18% reporting they had committed or threatened physical violence against such a person. The motivations for these attacks varied. Assailants were most likely to view homosexuals as predatory and believed that physically assaulting a gay individual whom they believed was flirting with them was a form of self-defense. Having an individual perceived as gay speak to them or smile at them was considered a threat. Others who admitted to physically assaulting gays attributed their behavior to ideology, the goal of punishing those who behave in inappropriate ways, or thrill seeking.
In a large study of 30 colleges conducted by the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, researchers surveyed students, faculty, staff, and administrators, including those who identified themselves as GLBT and those who identified themselves as heterosexual. The vast majority of the respondents from both groups felt that GLBT students were likely to be harassed on their college campus. Of those who identified themselves as GLBT undergraduates, 36% reported having been harassed during the past 12 months, with the abuse generally taking the form of verbal taunts (89%) from fellow undergraduate students (79%). More than half reported that they concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid harassment, and 20% said they feared physical assault because of their sexuality.
Not surprisingly, GLBT students generally say that they feel that college campuses are less safe and welcoming for them. In addition to verbal harassment and physical violence by their peers, these students report regular demeaning experiences, including derogatory remarks made by professors and coaches, antigay postings on social networking websites and email messages, anonymous notes left under dorm room doors or in mailboxes, vandalism of cars, and jeers. Others have reported that the police and campus officials do not take these incidents seriously. In rare cases, students at colleges supported by conservative religious denominations have been expelled for their homosexuality. Some evidence suggests that harassment of GLBT students may make them less likely to continue their education. Data indicate that gay and lesbian college students are more likely to be sexually assaulted than their peers, and lesbian students report higher rates of sexual harassment on campus.
- Draughn, T., Elkins, B., & Roy, R. (2002). Allies in the struggle: Eradicating homophobia and heterosexism on campus. In E. P. Cramer (Ed.), Addressing homophobia and heterosexism on college campuses (pp. 9-20). New York: Harrington Park Press.
- Rankin, S. R. (2003). Campus climate for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people: A national perspective. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.
- Rankin, S. R. (2006). LGBTQA students on campus: Is higher education making the grade? Journal ofGay & Lesbian Issues in Education, 3, 111-117.