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12 Best Colleges for Queer Women

12 Best Colleges for Queer Women

12 Best Colleges for Queer Women

School is starting, and applications for next year will be due soon! Here is a non-exhaustive list of schools where you can be accepted and find your voice.

School is starting all over the United States this month, and there is one thing in particular on college-bound juniors’ and seniors’ minds: How can I find the university that’s right for me? For a queer lady, this decision can take on a special significance. Maybe this your chance to leave your small town, your chance to come out as bi or gay or trans or genderqueer, your chance to finally live free. Or maybe you’ve been out and you’re looking to expand your social circle (and dating pool).

To help you on your search, a number of organizations and websites have listed the best colleges for LGBT students. Having gone to a school looked good on paper, I can tell you that lumping the L G, B, and T all together doesn’t always mean that queer cis and trans women will have the best experience. My undergraduate school was very accepting and supportive, with gender-neutral bathrooms and dorm hallways, and a SafeZone training program. But with a student body that was 64 percent cis male, in a relatively conservative city, my chance to burst onto the college scene in a blaze of sexually aware glory was somewhat diminished.

And so, without any further ado, and presented in no particular order, here is a non-exhaustive list of colleges and universities that will help you have the best queer experience you could possibly have.

University of Southern California

USC has an LGBT resource center that provides students, faculty, and staff with programs and involvement opportunities throughout the year. The university housing also includes a Rainbow Floor, a “special interest resident community that provides support, education and advocacy opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally (LGBTQA) students.” The Queer & Ally Student Assembly has been around for almost three decades.

There are also several women’s societies, such as the Women’s Student Assembly, the Black Women’s Caucus, the Feminist Collective, and the Society of Women Engineers. For a more social scene, Los Angeles has plenty of bars with women's nights, bookstores, and cafés. 

Lastly, the USC Student Health Insurance Plan has covered transgender medical needs since August 2013, including “clinician visits, medication, surgeries, diagnostic testing for pre-op and more.” 

Tulane University

Located in the vibrant, queer-friendly city of New Orleans, Tulane University has a reputation for acceptance and support. The school boasts an Office for Gender and Sexual Diversity that puts on an LGBTQIA orientation "offered to students as well as their guardians and parents." There is also an annual leadership retreat for students from a wide variety of minority groups.

For students looking to study gender and queer theory, there is an academic major/minor called Gender and Sexuality Studies. The list of course offerings includes Voices of Black Feminism, Feminist Political Theory, and Anthropology of Sex and Reproduction. For those looking to go the legal route, Tulane also has the only student-edited law review in the United States devoted to LGBT legal issues.

For trans students, the Student Health Center provides HRT and "gives referrals for personal trainers, psychologists/counselors, and hair removal specialists who have experience with trans* and gender non-conforming patients." There is also gender-inclusive housing available.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Founded in 1971, the Spectrum Center at Michigan was the first LGBT resource center for American college students. Its website has quick links for reporting a hate crime and requesting a coming-out mentor (they are called GPS mentors, for guidance, perspective, and support). Spectrum’s website also lists 18 student groups specifically for LGBTQ people and allies.

U of M also has the Center for the Education of Women, which “is dedicated to encouraging and enhancing the education and careers of adult women through programs and services, advocacy and research.” The center has leadership programs, a scholarship program, and career and education counseling. CEW works tirelessly to make life on campus better for women.

Gender-neutral bathrooms and housing abound on campus, and there is a Comprehensive Gender Services Program within the health system that provides evaluation, endocrinology, surgical services, and speech therapy for gender-variant individuals.

University of Central Florida

UCF is located in Orlando, a fairly progressive city with a thriving lesbian population. With 50,000 students, the school itself is like its own town. A town that has a queer common room called Pride Commons that’s open five days a week. Every year, the 40+ page Q Guide is published to help students answer questions such as how can I change my preferred name, what do I do about housing, and “my sex-ed never covered this.” 

The Women and Gender Studies program at UCF is one of the best in the nation. Every other year, the school hosts an International Women’s Issues Conference. There is also a Center for Success of Women Faculty, which promotes the advancement of the women who teach at UCF. 

Gender-neutral restrooms are available, and trans people can request to be specifically roomed with either another trans person or a trans accepting person. The health center also does referrals for trans patients looking for hormone therapy and related treatment.

Macalester College 

The Department of Multicultural Life at Macalester, located in St. Paul, Minn., hosts an initiative called LGBTQ@MAC that puts on queer and ally activities and programs throughout the year, such as a Lavender Graduation, ally (safe zone) training, coming out week, and sex positive week. The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center also provides a space for student groups to meet, like the Mac Activists for Reproductive Justice, and a feminist group called FIA*STARSA. 

The school itself is small, but it has the advantage of access to the twin cities of St Paul and Minneapolis. There are plenty of events for queer women all year round, like Babes in Bikeland (an all-women’s bike race). There are also several women’s sports leagues (roller derby, tackle football, etc.) where you can surely find a romantic interest in the crowd of attendees. A number of 21+ events happen throughout the year, such as Booby Trap and Blush, for when you get to be an upperclasswoman.

There are plenty of gender-neutral bathrooms to be had at Macalester as well as all-gender housing. The college also provides guidance for legal name changes, and the health center can prescribe hormones and make referrals for specialized care.

Portland State University

PSU, in Oregon, has a supportive environment, complete with a Queer Resource Center, a Trans Resources Coordinator and Trans Health Advocate (these are actual jobs people have at the school), gender-neutral bathrooms, QPOC-specific groups, and LGBTQ scholarships. There is also a Women’s Resource Center that has a Leadership in Action program, an Empowerment Program, and plenty of women-centric events throughout the year.

PSU is essentially a mecca within a mecca because there is no denying that Portland is a contender for the ultimate lesbian capital of the United States. When you google “Portland lesbian community,” list upon list shows up of events, cafés, restaurants, bars, and sports leagues that have significant ladyqueer patronage. It's enough to make you wonder why queer women would bother living anywhere else.

University of Washington in Seattle

The Q Center at University of Washington is "a fierce primarily student-run resource center dedicated to serving anyone with or without a gender or sexuality." The center plans events year-round and brings prominent speakers to campus (such as Janet Mock, who will be there October 14). There are also numerous LGBT student groups, such as a QPOC Alliance and a Gender Discussion Group. Additionally, UW has a Women's Center that promotes and advocates for gender equity and provides educational programs and leadership opportunities for women.

If a city gives Portland a run for its money, it's Seattle. I don't know why a bunch of queer women decided to migrate to the Pacific Northwest, but maybe the rest of us should follow. There are no specific queer-women bars, but that could be because everything is so queer-friendly already. The gay bars that exist are welcoming of women, and some have ladies' nights. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafés staffed primarily by our people if you want your coffee to come with eye candy.

For trans students, the state of Washington makes it easy to change your name and your sex designation on your driver's license. Also, health insurance plans in Washington cannot discriminate against trans people, and the state is also close to authorizing Medicaid to cover gender-reassignment surgery. Legally and socially speaking, it's one of the easiest states to live in when you're trans.

Bryn Mawr

The queer presence at Bryn Mawr is felt so strongly that the joke is it's almost easier to be LGBTQ than not. That kind of environment might be perfect for some, particularly those who come from an oppressive background.

Bryn Mawr is located near Philadelphia, which has a fairly active online 'zine for the queer women's community. They keep the events section updated, so check it out if you want to go there. 

The college recently announced that it will begin accepting applications from any person born female and/or who identifies as female, which is great news for trans high schoolers (though maybe not so great for cis males, who are now the only ones left out). 

American University

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion holds workshops for creating a safe space, trans* 101, exploring privilege, and understanding LGBTQ identities. Students can request an LGBTQA peer educator. The school also puts out an annual guide to LGBTQ life at AU. The Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies Program offers a Sexuality and Queer Studies minor.

Washington, D.C., is also a fantastic place to be an out queer woman. Several national organizations dedicated to LGBT rights are headquartered there, so there are a lot of opportunities to get involved in LGBT activism. The first lesbian bar in the U.S., Phase, is also in D.C., and there's a Facebook page called Wherethegirlsgo that will keep you updated on all the queer lady events happening around the city.

The trans* resource guide can answer most of your questions about being trans at American. Open-gender housing is an option for all students at AU, and the school makes it easy to tell your professors your correct name and gender. Additionally, the student health insurance plan covers surgical and nonsurgical treatment for transgender individuals.

Concordia University

Maybe you want to get so far out of Dodge you're willing to cross an international border. Concordia in Montreal could be the school for you. The school is English-speaking, but it might help you if you speak French or at least love the French-Canadian accent. The university's LGBTQ student group, Queer Concordia, plans frequent events and provides good support for queer students. Concordia also houses the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, the oldest Women's Studies program in Canada and is "one of the most innovative places in Quebec and Canada to study feminism."

Montreal is a hotbed for queer activity. Incoming first-years should try to get there early so they can partake in the city's epic Pride festival that happens every August. It is also important to note that the drinking age in Montreal is 18, so you won't need to wait until junior or senior year to take advantage of the queer nightlife. 

Trans* students can have their identification cards changed to reflect their correct name and gender, and the Centre for Gender Advocacy serves as a resource. Among the services offered are peer support and affordable binders.

University of California in Riverside

UC Riverside is an often overshadowed member of the UC school system, but it scores high in terms of quality of life. The university has an exceptional LGBT Resource Center that offers an ally training program specifically for the trans* experience as well as one for the LGB one. There's also a Women's Resource Center that provides programs and services, such as leadership training and a campus safety escort service, to women on campus.

For social events, there are plenty of Meetup groups in the Inland Empire (a region of which Riverside is a part). The school is also an hour outside of Los Angeles, so weekend trips to West Hollywood are absolutely a possibility.

But the main reason the university is on this list is because it has been a pioneer for trans issues. Ten years ago, UC Riverside was the first public college in the United States to offer gender-neutral housing. The university also collaborates with other UC schools to put on an intercampus retreat for non-gender-conforming students. Here is a handy guide for trans students coming to UCR.

Mount Holyoke 

One of the traditional "Seven Sisters," Mount Holyoke is another women's college that is a haven for queer women. Students at the small liberal arts school, situated in western Massachusetts, are able to take advantage of the large college community formed by Mount Holyoke, Amherst, Hampshire, Smith, and UMass. Among the five colleges, LGBT student organizations and classes abound.

Just a 20-minute drive (if you make friends with cars) or a Five-College Bus ride away are the wildly queer towns of Northampton and Amherst, loaded with bookstores and cafés where the next revolution may well be being planned. Northampton has been lovingly dubbed the "Lesbian Capital of the U.S.," due in large part to its being home to Smith College and its proximity to MHC.  There's even an LGBT club in Noho that offers 18+ nights so younger college students don't have to miss out.

Mount Holyoke also helped lead the way in terms of transgender inclusivity, being the second all-women's college (after Mills) and first of the Seven Sisters to formalize a policy of acceptance for qualified applicants who are biologically female and/or self-identify as female. Earlier this year the college canceled a performance of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues because it failed to include trans women. 

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Ellen Wall