10 Challenges LGBTQ Students Face in Schools

For many LGBTQ students, attending school still triggers anxiety.

Posted Feb 21, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

Freepik/flag photo created by Freepik
Source: Freepik/flag photo created by Freepik

In my early days of teaching college many years ago, I had a student who confided in me privately that he was gay. However, he said, he was willing to “play along” and hide his sexual orientation in class. At around the same time, I heard another student utter to her classmates: “I used to think gays were evil, but now I know that it’s just a disease.”

Since that time, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) awareness and rights have made significant strides. However, for many LGBTQ students, attending school and participating in classes still trigger many moments of uncertainly, stress, anxiety, and/or fear.

Below are ten challenges LGBTQ and gender non-binary students often face in schools, with references from my books How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts and Emotions and How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People. Depending on the individual and her/his/their circumstances and environment, the number and degree of challenges will differ.

1. Whether to “come out” in class, either publicly during class participation, or privately in class assignments.

2. When outside of class, whether to acknowledge or hide one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity when conversing with fellow-students, teachers, counselors, and staff.

3. How to respond when a fellow-student, instructor, counselor, and/or staff automatically assumes that one is heterosexual, and engages in “heterosexual talk” (i.e. telling a gay male student: “one day you’ll marry a nice woman and settle down.”)

4. How to respond when one hears disparaging, anti-LGBTQ (i.e. homophobic) remarks from fellow-students, teachers, counselors, and staff, whether the comments are made innocently, jokingly, or maliciously.

5. How to respond when a fellow-student, teacher, counselor, or staff learns about the LGBTQ student’s sexual orientation/gender identity and begins to treat the student “differently” (i.e. more reserved and distant, more impatient and dismissive, or more marginalizing and judgmental).

6. How to respond when, once someone learns about the LGBTQ student’s sexual orientation/gender identity, begins to make negative stereotypical assumptions, and/or becomes hostile. (Relatedly, when being disparaged or bullied for one’s sexual orientation/gender identity, whether to report the incident to campus authorities, and concern over whether school officials will investigate and take the incident seriously.)

7. When a new platonic friendship forms, inner conflict over whether to “come out” to the new friend, and anxiety over how the new acquaintance might respond.

8. After “coming out” to a new platonic friend of the same gender, whether the LGBTQ student’s verbal and nonverbal communication will be misunderstood and interpreted with bias (i.e. as sexual flirtations).

9. After “coming out,” how to cope with negative gossip in social circles and peer groups, including social media.

10. Whether to go along with or speak-up against the many signs of heterosexual, cisgender privileges and assumptions on campus.

For tips on how to handle homophobia and sexual identity/sexual-orientation-related stress, see references below.

© 2020 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.


LGBTQ Student Resources & Support


LGBTQ Resource List


LGBTQ Support Services


Practicing Cultural Humility: Using Gender Pronouns


Trans Student Educational Resources


5 Things You Can Do to Support Your LGBTQ Students