7 Ways for Campus Safety to Support LGBTQ Students

by Eric W. Trekell
Updated: August 2021


In 2019, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) issued their most recent survey on U.S. Secondary school climate. Nearly 90% of LGBTQ students reported experiencing harassment or assault based on gender expression or sexuality. Moreover, a majority of students (57%) never reported the harassment they experienced. Of those who did report an incident, 61% said school staff “did nothing… or told the student to ignore it”.

These statistics provide an indication of the culture many high school students have when transitioning to college. Most disconcerting, these statistics illustrate a culture of non reporting among LGBTQ students. Thus, colleges need to work actively at overcoming that culture.

Student affairs offices commonly have some staff committed to supporting LGBTQ students and encouraging students to report harassment. Indeed, many campuses have the appropriate processes and policies in place. However, it can be particularly difficult for campus law enforcement to be seen as playing an equally supportive role.

So what can campus safety officials do to be supportive of LGBTQ students? Every student is entitled to a safe academic learning environment. All students deserve to learn and be themselves. Campus safety provides the mechanism for this to happen by being visible and enforcing campus policies and laws. The following list represents seven suggestions for campus climate unobstructed by harassment, violence, or other negative behaviors. 

Create an LGBTQ Liaison Officer.

Establishing an LGBTQ liaison officer is justifiable for two reasons: the history of police violence against LGBTQ people, and because the LGBTQ community is not always visible. It’s not always easy for law enforcement to engage in dialogue with the LGBTQ community. Giving an openly LGBTQ officer responsibility for developing contacts with the LGBTQ campus community will help to overcome these challenges. Furthermore, this relationship can encourage the community to collaborate with and trust campus safety.

Actively Recruit LGBTQ Officers.

Even though it may be challenging to hire LGBTQ officers, taking steps to illustrate openness to hiring LGBTQ people can have a positive impact. One simple step may be working on job advertisements like “women, minorities, and LGBTQ people encouraged to apply.”

Be Visible at LGBTQ Events and Student Organization Meetings.

This can be a particularly valuable use of time for a LGBTQ liaison officer. However, all members of the security force should be ale to interact comfortable with LGBTQ campus members, and feel comfortable in “gay” spaces. Examples: assign the LGBTQ liaison officer to security detail at LGBTQ student social events (if necessary); straight officers can provide workshops to LGBTQ student groups on “personal safety.”

Appoint an LGBTQ Person to the Campus Safety Advisory Board.

If your campus safety/police department doesn’t have an advisory board comprised of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, it probably should. Furthermore, this board should include at least one “out” LGBT student, as well as representatives of other minority groups. The purpose of the advisory board is to review policies and practices; to provide advice on how to deal with potentially challenging issues; and to work as liaisons between campus safety and the campus community

Institute an LGBT Issues Training Component for Campus Safety Staff.

Certainly, personal anti-LGBTQ prejudices of officers can be an issue. However, one of the most common reasons for difficulties between police and members of the LGBTQ community is a lack of training. Often, officers don’t know what questions to ask, how to ask them, and what to do with the information once they have it. Basic training can provide officers with the most common, appropriate language used to describe the LGBTQ community, discuss myths and misconceptions, and begin to work on an understanding of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexism, and the barriers they create to reporting, investigating, and prosecuting violence against LGBTQ people.

Harassment Reporting Policies and Procedures.

Policies should be clear, widely distributed, and explicit in encouraging LGBTQ students to report harassment. Procedures should be easily accessible, via websites and multiple offices. They should offer anonymity, and a student advocate should be with the student during face-to-face meetings. Accurate figures of LGBTQ harassment incidents on campus should be public knowledge. These incidents must be discussed and never downplayed because of concerns over campus image.

Trans Issues Need Special Attention.

Transgender members of the campus community have unique issues of which campus safety officers need to be aware. Many of these issues come from unfounded concern of cisgender (non-transgender) people. For example, the presence of a transgender woman in a female restroom does not inherently prove harassment of another woman in that space. Thus, in responding to a report, campus security officers should focus on the actual behavior of the trans person. Another important issue for trans people includes how officers may react when responding to reported violence against a trans person. This could include assisting with medical care – in such situations, campus security forces need to be advocates for victims, not part of the problem.

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