Pa. and New Jersey universities among Campus Pride’s best LGBTQ-friendly schools list

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In a political climate of “Don’t Say Gay” laws, book bans and overall anti-LGBTQ+ animus, it’s more important than ever for schools to foster an inclusive environment for queer and trans students. Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pennsylvania are among 30 U.S. colleges and universities that were chosen as part of Campus Pride’s 2023 Best of the Best LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges and Universities list. These schools, according to Campus Pride, strive to cultivate safe, accepting environments for queer and trans students. Selection is based on the campuses’ overall rating on the Campus Pride Index, a national tool that evaluates LGBTQ+-inclusive policies, programs and practices. 

“The University of Pennsylvania and the LGBT Center are truly grateful to be recognized among the Best of the Best LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges by Campus Pride,” said Malik Muhammad, director of Inclusion Initiatives and Social Justice Education at Penn. “In a world that consistently tries to diminish and undermine the existence of LGBTQ+ folks, especially our youth, the LGBT Center prides itself on creating an affirming environment in which our LGBTQ+ communities can thrive, be uplifted, and fully celebrated. Through the pillars of intersectionality, education, advocacy and support, we work to ensure that our campus community is educated and that every member of our community understands…‘you belong!’”

The Campus Pride team created the Best of the Best list in 2009 so students and families can make smart choices about which LGBTQ-inclusive colleges and universities are the best fit for them. 

“The choice of where to go to college directly affects the futures of LGBTQ+ young people: this is where they will live and learn, both academically and socially, for the next two to four years,” Campus Pride Founder, CEO and Executive Director Shane Mendez Windmeyer said in an email. 

Other east coast schools that made the list include Rutgers, Adelphi University, Ithaca College, University of Rochester and University of Maryland, College Park. The schools earned high scores in the areas of LGBTQ+ policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, student life, campus safety, and other categories that ensure safety and inclusion of LGBTQ+ students. 

“We are thrilled to be recognized as a premier campus in Campus Pride’s ‘Best of the Best’ list for being an LGBTQ+ friendly university,” Sonya Wilmoth, director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, a unit in the division of Student Affairs at Penn State, said in a press release. “It highlights the work and investment that so many students, faculty and staff have done in advocating for our sexual- and gender-diverse communities. Our work would not be complete without the support of so many campus partners who provide needed resources and services for our students. This sense of community has been so important and speaks volumes to the commitment of the University.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, as of May 2023, 70 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been passed this year, including four laws that restrict school curricula and three that “create a license to discriminate.” Many of those laws are being introduced and passed in Texas and Florida. As such, the Campus Pride team chose to exclude schools from those states from this year’s Best of the Best list. 

“It is truly sad when political leaders use people as pawns,” Manny Velásquez-Paredes, director of the LGBTQ Center at the University of North Florida, said in a press release. “It is clear to every rational human being that diversity, equity, and inclusion are meant to create awareness and embrace, celebrate, and include our differences. However, we have found ourselves in the middle of a political culture war that is meant to divide us.”

In 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a package of bills that prohibit classroom instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in pre-K through eighth grade, which the Florida Board of Education expanded to all grades in 2023. The law also defines sex based on reproductive anatomy and dictates that school faculty and students use each other’s deadnames and incorrect pronouns. DeSantis also signed off on a bill that prohibits trans people from using restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. 

The Texas legislature is responsible for more than 20% of the 500 bills that target LGBTQ+ bodies and culture introduced in U.S. states, the HRC reported. In terms of the bills that affect education, the Texas Senate passed a bill banning DEI offices in state colleges and universities, as well as a bill that permits public school funding to be allocated to private school vouchers that have a “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” plan for education. Although it has not become law, a bill was introduced that would essentially prevent Texas public and charter schools from celebrating Pride events or “provide special instruction regarding a sexual preference,” the bill states. 

“In this climate, colleges and universities that are committed to creating safe and welcoming campuses for LGBTQ+ students are beacons of light,” Mendez Windmeyer added. “They offer things like LGBTQ centers, inclusive policies, and courses where students can see their experiences and identities reflected. These colleges deserve to be recognized, but even more importantly, LGBTQ+ young people deserve to know where they will be accepted and celebrated as vital parts of their campus communities.”

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Michele Zipkin is a staff writer for Philadelphia Gay News, where she reports on issues including LGBTQ youth issues, housing insecurity, healthcare, city government and advocacy organizations, and events. Her work has been recognized by the Keystone Media Awards, Society of Professional Journalists, National Newspaper Association, and more. She received her BA from Goucher College and her MA in journalism from Temple University. She has been on staff with PGN since January 2020 and previously worked as a freelancer.