From 1994 to 2020, public acceptance of LGBTQ people rose from 46% to 72%. Thanks to this change in perception, LGBTQ people are finally getting the respect they have always deserved. But this acceptance is thanks to the hard work of many people, including those who belonged/belong to the communities of America’s colleges. Some colleges have really made a difference in making LGBTQ rights a reality. This article highlights 30 colleges that have been proactive in making America a better place for LGBTQ people.
There is no one way for a college to increase the acceptance of LGBTQ people. Therefore, this ranking considers a range of measures that colleges have implemented that boost the acceptance of LGBTQ people. Some of these measures include founding pioneering LGBTQ organizations/centers, implementing equality policies, and providing services for LGBTQ people.
Increasing equality for LGBTQ people has been a major challenge. After all, up until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association defined homosexuality as a mental illness. And there is still significant work ahead. In fact, even in 2021, many state legislatures are looking to enact laws that oppress the LGBTQ community. Therefore, this ranking factors in the work that colleges are still undertaking to make the USA more LGBTQ-friendly. This ensures that the ranking considers colleges that are sure to help LGBTQ people in the future.
Any one of the colleges in this ranking is a strong choice for a student who wants to study in an institution that has made advancing LGBTQ equality a core issue. But it’s also possible that none of the colleges on this list are right for you. If that’s the case, then this ranking can still be a vital research tool for your college search. Each entry has a summary of what the college has done and is doing to increase LGBTQ acceptance. These have been included for you to compare and contrast with your own college options. If any of the colleges you’re considering is treating LGBTQ equality like the colleges ahead, then that’s a strong sign that it’s an institution worth attending!
We initially identified the colleges in this ranking from the following sources:
Higher Education Today, LGBTQ Students on Campus: Issues and Opportunities for Higher Education Leaders
Learn How To Become, LGBTQ College Student Resource Guide
Best Colleges, The Best Colleges for LGBTQ+ Students 2021
After finding the potential colleges to include from these sources, we conducted further research to highlight how effective their LGBTQ progression work has been and see that it continues.
The ranking criteria for our entries are as follows: evidence of making positive changes for LGBTQ people, evidence of continuing to advance equality for LGBTQ people, evidence of a wide range of equality activities, evidence of enacting innovative equality measures, and the number of rankings/mentions on the source lists.
Our final ranking from 30 to one, is below:
30. Georgetown University
The LGBTQ progress at Georgetown University is more recent than many other colleges on this list. However, it has made significant gains over the last 15 years. In 2008, when a majority of students stated that homophobia was an issue, the college decided to take action. Soon, the college had an LGBTQ resource center. By 2013, The New York Times stated that the college had become one of the leading LGBTQ Catholic colleges. In the years since the college has made even more progress. For example, in 2018, it opened its first LGBT residential community. In the present day, the college’s LGBTQ Resource Center runs a range of unique initiatives, including an annual retreat and a peer mentorship program. Higher Education Today praises Georgetown University for its anti-discrimination policies towards sexual orientation.
29. University of Virginia
1972 saw the foundation of the Gay Student Union at the University of Virginia. This organization has “always fought to defend every person’s right to define who they are.” Today, this organization is known as the Queer Student Union and manages a wide range of inclusive activities, such as drag bingo and a mentorship program for local high schoolers. Additionally, the college has run the LGBTQ Center since 2001. This center runs a range of programs that expand upon the Queer Student Union’s activities, such as workshops that boost LGBTQ advocacy. Best Colleges names the University of Virginia as the 11th best college for LGBTQ students.
28. Emory University
1991 was the year when Emory University started to see major pushes towards LGTBQ equality. In the fall of that year, the college created the Office of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Student Life. And in December 1991 two men kissed publicly in one of the college’s residence halls. This event was controversial at the time and led to complaints. When the college failed to defend the students, the community marched across the campus in an act of protest. After this, the college’s president created a task force to improve campus conditions for LGB people. The actions of this protest are still felt in the present day. For instance, every year, on the anniversary of the protests, the college hands out Pride Awards to celebrate individuals who help the LGBTQ community. Fastweb names Emory University as the 10th most LGBTQ-friendly college in America.
27. The University of Texas at Dallas
In 1996, The Galerstein Gender Center opened at the University of Texas at Dallas to support and advocate for LGBTQ people. It states that it exists to address the issues concerning and to embrace the principles of gender and LGBTQ identity. These activities are also supported by the college’s Student Counseling Center, which has its own Gender and Sexuality Consultation Team. Best Colleges considers The University of Texas at Dallas to be the 19th best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride names it one of the best LGBTQ colleges in America.
26. Kenyon College
In the 1980s, Kenyon College began teaching gay and lesbian studies courses on campus. Since then, the LGBTQ progression at the college has increased dramatically, with the college hosting its first Pride Weekend event in 2015. More recently, the college has founded the Kenyon Queer and Trans Studies Conference. This conference is held every two years. The first one took place in 2019 and conducted nearly 20 workshops. Best Colleges considers Kenyon College to be the 18th best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride names it one of the best LGBTQ colleges.
25. New York University
New York City, New York
In 1970, New York University did not officially recognize their student’s gay union. But they did provide the group with a space to meet. In 1976, the college would finally officially recognize it under the name the Gay People’s Union. However, LGBTQ students had had to make a name for themselves during this time. For instance, in 1970, LGBTQ activists held a five-day sit-in at one of the residence halls to protest the college’s cancellation of gay dances on the site. In the 1980s, the college became more progressive, with its medical center becoming among the first to care for people with AIDS. Today, the college’s LBBTQ+ Center continues to fight for LGBTQ rights through innovative programs such as the Queering Faith program and Trans Awareness Week. Best Colleges names New York University the joint 16th best college for LGBTQ students.
24. Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
Washington University in St. Louis has noted that its campus was home to the first organized pride event in St. Louis. This event was The Lesbians and Gays Walk for Charity, which took place in 1980. In recent years, the college has continued to be an important voice for LGBTQ culture in the Midwestern United States. For example, in 2019, the college’s school of law organized and hosted the Midwest LGBTQIA Rights Conference. Fastweb considers Washington University in St. Louis to be the seventh most LGBTQ-friendly college.
23. Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
In 1968, the Cornell University Campus formed its chapter of the Student Homophile League. In December 1970, the college’s Gay Liberation Front protested a ban on gay students from attending a local bar, Morrie’s, which arose after a homophobic journalist had stated that it was a gay bar. After three months of demonstrating by sitting inside the bar and refusing to buy drinks or leave, the students were successful. The bar’s owner apologized to the students and allowed them to use the bar once more. In 1979, the college formed an LGBT alumni group. In 1994, the college established the LGBT Resource Center and launched a minor in Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Studies. In the present day, the LGBT Resource Center has a number of signature programs, such as First-Year Queer Peer and a range of internship/volunteer opportunities. Best Colleges names Cornell University the joint 14th best college for LGBTQ students.
22. Mount Holyoke College
South Hadley, Massachusetts
LGBTQ people have long been a part of the Mount Holyoke College community. For example, in the first half of the 20th century, the college’s president, Mary Woolley, and a professor, Jeannette Marks, shared a relationship. But the first evidence of the college openly discussing LGBTQ identity dates to 1975, when the college’s newspaper published an anonymous letter from a woman on the campus who explained that she was a lesbian. This was followed up with an interview with the letter author, who remained anonymous. This interview was followed up with letters of support. Soon, the college paper was advertising a gay support group. Today, the college is a welcoming place for LGBTQ people. There are many accounts written by students and graduates of how their college years are spent in a supportive community, regardless of their sexuality. Higher Education Today praises Mount Holyoke College’s transgender student policies.
21. Barnard College
New York City, New York
In 1966, the Barnard College Student Homophile League had to meet surreptitiously. However, next year, the college’s LGBTQ students became more public when they founded, in association with Columbia University, the first LGBTQ student organization in America, the Columbia Queer Alliance. By 1970, a guide for incoming students to the college listed the college’s chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. In 1989, the college decided to introduce its first courses that explored LGBTQ issues. In 2015, the college, which is for women, decided to admit transgender students for the first time. In the present day, Barnard College still collaborates with Columbia University to run Queer Awareness Month every October. Higher Education Today states that Barnard College has a great transgender inclusion policy.
20. San Diego State University
San Diego, California
The LGBTQ Research Consortium at San Diego State University has conducted a range of cutting-edge work for LGBTQ visibility. This includes sponsoring or co-sponsoring more than 40 lectures and panels, with faculty members from a range of different colleges participating in these events. It was established by two of the college’s professors in 2013. In addition to lectures, the LGBTQ Research Consortium has hosted conferences, symposiums, and a range of other programming. The current LGBTQ center at the college is the Pride Center, which hosts events such as the Trans Week of Empowerment, Dragstavaganza, and Black Gay Pride Week. Best Colleges names San Diego State University the joint 14th best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride names it one of the top LGBTQ colleges.
19. University of Massachusetts, Amherst
LGBTQ activism on the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, campus became proactive in 1984 in response to a range of anti-LGBT incidents. In fact, this activity led to the first campus climate report for LGBT students sanctioned by an American college. This report prompted the college to begin what would become known as The Stonewall Center. This center was only the third LGBTQ center on a college campus and would serve as the model for 150 more LGBTQ centers across North America. Today, The Stonewall Center remains an important place for LGBTQ awareness on the college campus, thanks in part to programs such as Allies in Progress. This program trains hundreds of staff, students, and faculty members to help support LGBTQ college members. Higher Education Today names the University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s LGBTQ Speakers Bureau as an amazing example of a program that helps LGBTQ people. Campus Pride names it as one of the best LGBT colleges in America.
18. Macalester College
Saint Paul, Minnesota
One of the earliest LGBTQ events at Macalester College took place in 1975 when students invited a former Minnesota law student, Jack Baker, who had participated in a gay marriage ceremony in 1971, and Karen Browne, who co-founded the Lesbian Resource Center, to speak on their campus. Also, in 1975, the college’s Gay Student Collective managed to receive funds from the Community Council. In 1985, the college added sexual orientation into its nondiscrimination policy. Today, the college has the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center to promote and support LGBTQ culture and individuals. Best Colleges names Macalester College the 21st best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride names it one of the best LGBTQ colleges in America.
17. Lehigh University
The Pride Center at Lehigh University is “deeply grateful to the students, staff, faculty, administrators, and community members who have worked throughout the years towards queer justice.” The college acknowledges that its progress in becoming an inclusive place for LGBTQ people has not always been easy, but it has had many successes. The first organization for gay students at the college, the Homophile Society, was formed in 1972. In 1984, two students created a new organization that offered LGBT people a safe space for socialization. In 1997, the Safe Space Ally Program came to the campus. In the present day, the Pride Center chooses to focus on a different aspect of LGBTQ culture every year. For instance, the 2019 to 2020 academic year, focused upon prison abolition. Best Colleges names Lehigh University the ninth best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride names it one of the best pro-LGBTQ colleges.
16. Columbia University
New York City, New York
In the 1940s, the students Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac first began advocating for LGBT recognition at Columbia University. Two decades later, the college made history by forming, with Barnard College, the first gay student organization on a college campus in 1966. However, the college didn’t officially recognize the group until 1967, when this news was so important that it made the cover of The New York Times. By 1970, LGBTQ students were participating in weekly dances. In addition, 1971 saw the introduction of a gay lounge, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. In more recent years, Columbia University has launched a number of LGBTQ initiatives. One such example is a 2014 initiative at the college’s School of Nursing, which used the college’s medical center to draw upon world-class clinical research to improve the health and well-being of LGBTQ people. Best Colleges names Columbia University the 20th best college for LGBTQ students.
15. Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey
In 1969, a sophomore student at Rutgers University established the Rutgers Student Homophile League. At the time, this was the first openly gay organization in New Jersey. Over the following decade, a growing number of people and departments started advocating for LGBTQ issues. For instance, in 1976, the college’s law school organized an LGBT caucus, which helped study laws that would affect LGBT individuals. In 1981, the college prohibited discrimination against sexual orientation in an amendment of its anti-discrimination policies. And in 1988, the college’s leadership became even more proactive in protecting and supporting its LGBTQ community, with the president establishing the President’s Select Committee for Lesbian-Gay Concerns. In 1991, the college hosted the fifth annual Lesbian and Gay Studies Conference. Today, one of the most important organizations at the college for helping LGBTQ causes is the Center for Social Justice Education & LGBT Communities. Best Colleges names Rutgers University the 22nd best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride names it one of the best LGBTQ colleges in America.
14. University of Oregon
The welcoming nature of the University of Oregon to LGBTQ people “is the result of more than four decades of grassroots activism by LGBTQ students, members of the faculty and staff, and community allies.” In 1969, the University of Oregon became home to the Gay People’s Alliance. The first accommodation that the college provided to LGBTQ people took place in 1971, when the college adopted equal employment opportunities, by stating that they would not regard any “extraneous considerations” in hiring decisions. In 1992, the college formed the Standing Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Concerns to enhance the quality of life for LGBTQ people on campus. Today, the college encourages equality for LGBTQ people in many ways, most impressively with the John R. Moore Scholarship, which gives students $2,000 for excelling in contributing to the LGBTQ community at the college. Fastweb names the University of Oregon the eighth-most LGBTQ-friendly college. Campus Pride considers it to be one of the best LGBTQ colleges in America.
13. Tufts University
The gay liberation movement at Tufts University is believed to have begun in 1969 when a student revealed that he was gay on stage during that year’s graduation ceremony. A few years later, in 1972, the first gay organization came to the college named the Tufts Gay Community. The LGBTQ community became ever more active over the following decades, with the first LGBTQ dance taking place in 1983 and the first gay history class being taught in 1989. The college’s LGBT Center was founded in 1992. Best Colleges names Tufts University the fifth-best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride names the college one of the best LGBTQ colleges in America.
12. Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana
The first LGBTQ group on the Purdue University campus was the Purdue Gay Alliance, formed in 1971. Later in the decade, the college became home to two more LGBTQ groups, the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Women’s Alliance. In the present day, the college’s LGBTQ Center hosts a wide range of welcoming activities, such as origami sessions, movie screenings, guest speakers, game nights, and much more. Higher Education Today notes that Purdue University has one of the best LGBTQ inclusion policies in America. Best Colleges names it the joint 16th best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride names the college one of the best LGBTQ colleges.
11. Harvey Mudd College/Pomona College
As two of the Claremont Colleges, Harvey Mudd College and Pomona College, benefit from having access to the Queer Resource Center. The Queer Resource Center maintains an archive of LGBTQ progression on the college campus. It notes that the first LGBT organization among the Claremont Colleges began in the early 70s and was named the Gay Student Union. In the late 70s, this group began collaborating extensively with another group, Feminists Against Repression. The Queer Resource Center was formed in 1993 and was originally named the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Resource Center. In the present day, Harvey Mudd College is the only Claremont college that Campus Pride and Best Colleges list in their pro-LGBTQ college lists. Best Colleges names it the 10th best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride includes it in its unranked list of the best LGBTQ colleges in America. Pomona College is Fastweb’s third most LGBTQ-friendly college.
10. University of Washington
In 2016, the University of Washington shone a unique spotlight into the LGBTQ history of Seattle by adding an LGBTQ history component to its Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project. Before this, in 2005, the college opened the Q Center for LGBTQ students. This center was the result of six years of planning and development. The Q Center has been a huge success for the college, with it gaining an average of 500 visitors a month. Its largest event to date was attended by over 1,400 people. Learn How To Become and Campus Pride both consider the University of Washington to be one of the best LGBTQ colleges. Best Colleges names the college the third-best for LGBTQ students.
9. University of Louisville
One alumnus of the University of Louisville has been a major figure in the progression of LGBTQ rights in America. Greg Bourke graduated from the college in 1979. In the years since he founded the college’s LGBTQ alumni association and was a plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case, same-sex marriages in America were legalized. Officially, the University of Louisville’s LGBT Center opened in 2007. At the time, it was the first LGBTQ center in the State of Kentucky. However, even before the opening of this center, the college had a long history of helping the LGBT community apart from its alumni activities. For instance, it has awarded a scholarship to students who help the LGBTQ community since 1994. And in 2019, the college even received a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award for its recent work in researching LGBTQ history in Kentucky. The college continues to promote pioneering LGBTQ work in various ways, such as the Diane Rigney Activism Grant, which gives students a maximum of $500 to showcase their passion for LGBTQ issues on campus. Learn How To Become and Campus Pride name the University of Louisville as one of the best colleges for LGBTQ equality.
8. University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
In the present day, the University of Maryland is doing much to advance the equality of LGBTQ people. For instance, in 2021, the college released a report that highlighted the gaps in mental healthcare that exist for LGBTQ populations and held a town hall that discussed the experience of transgender and nonbinary people at the college. This current work builds on a strong history of LGBTQ support. Since 2002, the college has run a certificate program in LGBT studies. However, even before this program, the college taught pro-LGBTQ content, with the earliest subject matter being taught in the 1970s. Fastweb considers the University of Maryland to be the second most LGBTQ-friendly college. Best Colleges names the college the eighth-best for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride names it one of the best LGBTQ colleges.
7. University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Thanks to the tireless work of LGBTQ activists at the University of Michigan, the college made history in 1971, when it opened the first staff office for LGBTQ students in an institution of higher learning in America. The office was named the Human Sexuality Office, and its two employees set up a system of peer advisors trained to help LGBTQ students. Today, LGBTQ issues are promoted across the college. For instance, its medical school ensures that all of its students learn about LGBTQ health concerns. Best Colleges names the University of Michigan the sixth-best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride also names it one of the best LGBTQ colleges in America.
6. University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Over the course of its history, the University of California, Los Angeles has, directly and indirectly, led to major achievements in LGBTQ rights. Perhaps the earliest indirect achievement was the graduation of John Burnside, who went on to found the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front. In the 1950s, one of the college’s urologists performed one of the earliest gender-reassignment surgeries, and one of its psychologists published research showing that homosexuality was not a psychological disease. The college’s first Gay Awareness Week occurred in 1974. Pioneering achievements are still taking place at UCLA. For instance, the college’s health department has been tracking transgender and nonbinary experiences during the pandemic in the hopes of providing better care. Fastweb names the University of California, Los Angeles, as the fifth most LGBTQ-friendly college. Best Colleges names the college the 12th best for LGBTQ students.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The first LGBTQ student group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology was formed in 1969, the Student Homophile League. After forming this group, the LGBTQ resources on campus at the college grew, with the GaMIT Lounge becoming a space for LGBTQ people in 1975. However, the LGBTQ activities got a major boost in 1996, when an alumnus of the college provided $100,000 to support LGBTQ programs. Since then, the college has used its status as one of the leading technology colleges to promote LGBTQ issues in STEM. For instance, in 2011, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab focused on improving LGBTQ representations in video games. In the present day, LGBTQ activism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is stronger than ever. For instance, the college regularly hosts a range of events, such as a webinar that focuses on the intersection of art, activism, and research in HIV/AIDS advocacy. Fastweb names Massachusetts Institute of Technology the 9th most LGBTQ-friendly college. Best Colleges names it the seventh best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride considers it to be one of the best LGBTQ colleges.
4. Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
One of the earliest major LGBTQ accomplishments to come from Princeton University occurred in 1989. Students protested against CIA recruiters because the organization refused to hire homosexual people. The college decided to ban CIA recruiters, and by the next academic year, the government organization had changed its hiring policy. And in 1994, the college created the LGB Concerns Task Force, which later led to the LGBT Center. Today, the LGBT Center runs a range of initiatives that promote acceptance. This includes appointing peer educators for LGBTQ people and the Princeton LGBTQIA Oral History Project. Learn How to Become and Campus Pride name Princeton as one of the present-day’s best LGBTQ colleges. Best Colleges even names it the second-best LGBTQ college in America.
3. The Ohio State University
2021 marks 50 years of The Ohio State University publicly supporting LGBTQ causes. In 1971, the college first recognized its chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. This resulted in a range of on-campus pro-LGBTQ events, such as guest speakers, meetings, and film screenings. After this, the student government-funded Gay Activists Alliance provided counseling to LGBT people and started publishing its own newsletter. In the present day, The Ohio State University has many organizations that help LGBTQ people, such as the LGBTQ First Year Q*mmunity and the QTPOC Cohort. Possibly the most unique support that the college is providing to the LGBTQ community is the work it does to combat cancer-related inequities. Fastweb considers The Ohio State University to be the fourth most LGBTQ-friendly college in America. Best Colleges names it the 12th best college for LGBTQ students. Campus Pride lists it as one of the best LGBTQ colleges.
2. Stanford University
The Stanford Sexual Rights Forum was founded at Stanford University in 1965. This student organization became the first student group to advocate nationally for civil rights for LGBTQ people. In 1968, the college also saw the foundation of the Homophile League of Stanford University, which was the second homosexual student group in America. This was followed up in 1970 with the Stanford Gay Students Union. In the following years, the college saw many achievements for the LGBTQ community, such as its first gay studies course in 1973 and the hiring, with tenure, of the first openly gay professor at the college in 1977. More recently, the college introduced the Stanford LGBT Executive Leadership Program in 2016. Fastweb names Stanford University as the sixth most LGBTQ-friendly college. Best Colleges names it the best college for LGBTQ students.
1. University of Pennsylvania
One of the major points of pride at the University of Pennsylvania is that it is home to the second oldest LGBTQ center in America. This center opened in 1982 and has grown and grown over the years, to the point where today it occupies an entire building on the college campus. Additionally, the college’s hospitals are renowned for LGBTQ patient care. In fact, in 2018, Human Rights Campaign stated that the hospitals were leading LGBTQ healthcare equality efforts. Fastweb names the University of Pennsylvania the most LGBTQ-friendly college. Best Colleges considers it to be the fourth-best college for LGBT students. Campus Pride considers it to be one of the best LGBTQ colleges.