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Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community through Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement

September 23, 2021 Colleen Lofton

This blog post is a special collaboration between the Civic Learning & Democratic Engagement Knowledge Community and the Gender & Sexuality Knowledge Community. Colleen Lofton serves as the Public Policy Division Liaison for the GSKC.


Higher education and student affairs (HESA) practitioners engaging in civic learning and democratic engagement (CLDE) must critically examine how their work impacts the LGBTQ+ community, and strive to minimize harm. At the same time, HESA practitioners should find ways to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. This guest post will provide a synopsis of how to support the LGBTQ+ community and the LGBTQ+ students practitioners support. As with many topics in our field, this post is not an exhaustive list of considerations nor may these ideas be feasible in every situation. HESA practitioners should feel empowered to connect with campus and external resources to continue finding ways to support the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ students.

Issues the LGBTQ+ Community Uniquely Experiences
While not every LGBTQ+ individual experiences the same challenges, we know these are a few issues that either affect the LGBTQ+ community disproportionately or in different ways compared to straight and cisgender people:

  • Healthcare. Human Rights Watch explains, LGBTQ+ people can experience discrimination when going to the doctor, along with not having access to health insurance and the care they need.

  • Homelessness. According to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, “Transgender and gender non-conforming people are much more likely to be poor or homeless than the average person.”

  • Intimate Partner Violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports LGBTQ+ people may not seek help due to a variety of reasons, including state laws and concern about being discriminated against when seeking services.  

The LGBTQ+ community is not monolithic and, thus, HESA practitioners should contemplate the ways LGBTQ+ community members experience these and other issues. For example, organizing or educating students on topics related to CLDE should fold in advocacy on how those issues affect trans people: 


LGBTQ+ State and Federal Policies
HESA practitioners must stay abreast to legislation being proposed and enacted at both the state and federal levels of government. In April 2021, the GSKC released a statement regarding our concern about the number of anti-transgender bills being proposed and enacted in the United States. Then in June, we collaborated with NASPA to hold State Legislation and Transgender Rights? Let’s Talk About It, a 60 minute webinar that summarized anti-trans state policies and inclusive actions practitioners can take. If you would like to learn about transgender and nonbinary people, you are invited to review the 30 minute primer at the beginning of the link. Unfortunately, there are many more policies and issues that the LGBTQ+ community experiences, beyond what has been covered in the webinar and this post. The bipartisan organization, Freedom for All Americans, tracks anti-trans legislation, and may be a helpful resource. Lastly, if you are interested in discovering what policies impact the LGBTQ+ community in your state, the Human Rights Campaign’s State Equality Index is another helpful resource. 


Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community through Engagement with Community Partners and Volunteer Work
When choosing an external organization to collaborate with on CLDE work, deliberate on how supportive the organization and its people are to the LGBTQ+ community. Some ways you may approach this is to analyze the organization’s mission and policies. Additional examples regarding aligning your work with supporting the LGBTQ+ community are below. Then, there are specific examples for creating inclusive practices to support LGBTQ+ students.


Aligning Work with Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community: Examples

  • Blood Drive. When holding a blood drive, consider who can give blood. The Red Cross’s Blood Donation Policies create a barrier for men who have sex with men because they follow the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) policy. The FDA’s policy on blood donations has evolved from a lifetime ban to a 12 month deferment to a 3 month blood donation deferment for men who have sex with men.

  • Toiletry Drive. When holding a toiletry drive and collecting period products, determine whether the organization in which you are donating the items to allows trans and non-binary people to access the period products. Period products are not as accessible as you may think, so it is best to check with the organization.

  • Workplaces. Identify ways the site or community partner is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. Use the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index to learn more about LGBTQ+ friendly workplaces.

Supporting LGBTQ+ Student Volunteers: Examples

  • Accomodations. Before making the lodging reservation for your alternative break trip, determine whether the lodging is LGBTQ+ inclusive. Some ways to do this are included in this section (e.g., names, restrooms, municipal policies).

  • Cost. Identify the cost of participation that students will have to pay up front. These costs may prohibit LGBTQ+ students from participating. Seek out ways for your institution to reduce the cost students pay.

  • Names. Ensure students can use their names (rather than defaulting to legal names, for example) at the work site and on the alternative break trip.

  • Pronouns. Acknowledge and use the student’s pronouns

  • Restrooms. Before going to the volunteer site or area, ensure gender inclusive restrooms are available to students.

  • Travel. If you are taking students to a U.S. city for an alternative break trip, consider reading about how LGBTQ+ friendly the city is on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.

There are plenty of additional resources for you to utilize, such as your institution’s Gender Resource Center or LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Campus Pride (who offers LGBTQ+-inclusive volunteer projects), and The Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. You may even consider connecting with the local LGBTQ+ center to provide educational resources or safe zone training for the organization staff of the volunteer site. Now that you have been given more resources, I invite you to continue reflecting on the work you do and how you can further support the LGBTQ+ community.  


The Gender & Sexuality Knowledge Community is NASPA’s place for professionals, students, and those interested in gender and sexuality issues to connect. We provide education and support for the diverse queer, trans, bisexual, lesbian and gay community through scholarship, advocacy and engagement.

For more information, please email: [email protected]