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Degrees for Good: Serving the LGBTQIA+ Community

Want to use your degree for good? Discover how to choose (and use) a degree that serves the LGBTQIA+ community in our guide. We’ll cover top degrees for LGBTQ allies, how to pay for your degree, and additional resources for student advocates.

Author: Shannon Daigle
Editor: STEPS Staff

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Silhouettes of people celebrating at an outdoor event. One person forms a heart shape with their hands while another holds a large rainbow flag, proudly representing the LGBTQIA+ community. The scene is brightly lit, suggesting a joyful and vibrant atmosphere.

Even though the last decade shows some progress on LGBT rights, society still has a long way to go before we’ve achieved true equity. Despite advances, members of the LGBTQIA+ community still face discrimination, mental health challenges, and disparities in healthcare access and income.

Whether you’re an LGBTQIA-identifying student or a someone who wants to work as an ally, you can choose a degree that makes a positive difference in the world and addresses equity challenges. To that end, we’ve put together this guide to degrees for serving the LGBTQIA+ community.

Keep reading to discover:
  • The best degrees for advocating for and supporting the LGBTQIA+ population.
  • Using your degree to address the biggest challenges facing this community today.
  • How to pay for your degree.
  • Scholarship opportunities you can apply for now.
  • Resources for students who want to serve the LGBTQIA+ community.

Degrees for Working with the LGBTQIA+ Community

The LGBTQIA+ population is an underserved and at-risk community that faces its own unique challenges. The Center for American Progress reports that one out of every three LGBTQI+ adults says they’ve faced discrimination. One out of every three has also avoided medical care due to cost. More than half have experienced a decline in mental health or perceived safety in our current political climate.

Choosing a public service degree can provide a path for you to become a part of the solution. Let’s take a closer look at some of the biggest challenges the LGBTQIA+ population is facing today, along with how public service degree choices can equip you to be an agent of change.

Discrimination and Stigma

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community often face discrimination and social stigma based on their identities and sexual orientation. And this discrimination can be both personal and institutional: Several states introduced or passed anti-LGBTQ legislation in 2023, like “don’t say gay” laws. The trend of singling out LGBTQIA+ individuals can cause direct harm in their lives, especially when it comes to how they’re treated in the workforce, healthcare settings, housing markets, and educational environments. Living with the effects of this discrimination and stigma can also be detrimental to mental and physical health, but several professional fields can help promote equity:

  • Social Work: A social work program — or specifically a master’s in social work — equips you to help others find the necessary resources to overcome mental health and emotional challenges as a result of discrimination and internalized stigma. You can also pursue a specialization in the unique needs of the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Healthcare Administration: Because discrimination toward LGBTQ+ people can lead to a poorer quality of care, our society needs healthcare administrators interested in implementing a standard of care characterized by acceptance and support, not exclusion.
  • Education: Almost 60% of LGBTQ+ students report hearing homophobic remarks from teachers or staff, and more than 70% have heard negative comments about gender expression. Students deserve to feel safe and supported in school. With a teaching degree or an education master’s, you can develop classroom environments, curricula, and infrastructure that supports all students.

Health Disparities & Access to Care

As we’ve noted, accessing quality healthcare can be a challenge for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Eight percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people and 29% of trans people reported that a doctor has refused to see them because of orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, research suggests that sexual minority youth are at a higher risk for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and other high-risk behaviors. Meanwhile, several states have passed legislation limiting access to gender-affirming medical care.

If you’re interested in helping to reverse these trends, consider earning a degree in:

  • Public Health: With a public health degree, you’ll learn to conduct research and reform policies that bridge the gap between current shortcomings and emerging solutions. After graduation, you can be a part of providing better healthcare education and information to the LBTQIA+ community. For leadership roles, consider a master’s in public health.
  • Healthcare Administration: Healthcare administrators manage organizations that serve the LGBTQIA+ community alongside the rest of the population. Strong leaders are needed to provide guidelines and accountability for a higher standard of care. With a healthcare administration degree, you can be a part of that solution.
  • Social Work: People who comprise the LGBTQIA+ population can often benefit from guidance on advocating for themselves in healthcare. Social workers provide resources and counseling services to people who are trying to understand their own sexual orientations and identities and safely locate the support and care they need.

Family and Relationship Challenges

Having close family and social relationships offers connection and support that helps members of the LGBTQIA+ community deal with the stress and mental health challenges that can come with being part of a minority group. However, many people have difficulty coming out to family members, and if they do, being met with acceptance. Romantic relationships can also be isolating. In addition to the risk of discrimination, many people must navigate partnership, marriage, and parenthood in states without protections for the LGBTQIA+ population. Here are some careers in which you can help by offering support:

  • Social Work: With a social work degree, you can become a vital support person for the LGBTQIA+ community. In the absence of family relationships, community support, and protective infrastructure, social workers can connect people with affirming and supportive resources and organizations.
  • Counseling: Each unique situation calls for individualized coping skills, and the needs of LGBTQIA+ populations are often overlooked. With a counseling degree, you can specialize in supporting LGBTQIA+ clients as a whole or in a more specific capacity, such as offering LGBTQ marriage counseling.
  • Psychology: With your psychology degree, you can support the specific underlying emotional and mental health concerns of members of the LGBTQIA+ community, either as a psychologist or a researcher. Consider specializing in LGBTQIA+ issues, especially those people face as they navigate romantic and familial relationships.

Violence and Harassment

LGBTQIA+ people are at an elevated risk for violence, harassment, and hate crimes. Support for and protection from these types of harm is a dire need. According to UC Merced, members of the LGBTQIA+ community are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, and they experience sexual violence at similar or higher rates than heterosexuals. Recent research suggests that members of the LGBTQIA+ population experience 6.6 violent hate crimes per 1,000 persons, which is disproportionately higher than the crimes committed against non-LGBTQIA+ populations. Consider a degree in the following fields to curb these troublesome trends:

  • Social Work: As a social worker, you can provide essential safety services to those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Social workers provide resources for people to recognize, report, and escape from violence or harassment. You can also be an advocate for the development of supportive anti-violence resources within communities.
  • Counseling: Counselors help people overcome barriers to better mental health by equipping them with coping mechanisms and strategies for growth. In the LGBTQIA+ community, this can look like helping people recognize or process abuse and its effects on their lives.
  • Law: Legal protections for LGBTQIA+ populations are one of the main ways to encourage and enforce measures that protect their safety. With a law degree, you can learn how to create and advocate for equitable environments and offer representation for victims of hate crimes.

Legal and Policy Issues

The LGBTQIA+ community is more vulnerable to discriminatory legislation and civil rights issues. According to The Center for American Progress, state lawmakers introduced over 300 bills targeting LGBTQIA+ rights in 2022 alone. Compounding the issue, there is no comprehensive federal nondiscrimination law that specifically protects LGBTQIA+ people. In fact, fewer than half of states have created nondiscriminatory legislation at the state level. Earning a degree in one of the following fields is an excellent way to dedicate your career to allyship:

  • Public Policy: A master’s in public policy gives you a seat at the table for discussions and decisions surrounding ethics and values. You may find yourself at the forefront of leading change and progress, where you could be an advocate for LGBTQIA+ voices.
  • Law: Law is an important industry if you’re interested in contributing to a more equitable society. Choose a pre-law program or law degree with a focus in litigation, human rights, government relations, or in house consulting to gain training you can use to work toward equal rights.
  • Communications: A communications degree will teach you how to be an effective communicator and strategist who can develop effective relationships with donors and advocates. After graduation, you can work for organizations and nonprofits to promote awareness and fundraising for LGBTQ-related issues.

Intersectional Challenges

According to Gallup, 7.1% of people in the United States identify as LGBTQ. Though that number has slightly increased in the last few years, LGBTQ people remain firmly in the minority. Additionally, some also belong to other marginalized groups, like people of color, immigrants, or people with disabilities. As a result, they may face intersecting forms of discrimination and experience diverse individual lived experiences. With a focus on intersectional challenges, you can help address these unique identities and needs within LGBTQ communities. Consider these majors if you’re interested in this complex topic:

  • Nonprofit Administration: With this degree, you’ll be qualified to manage the day-to-day operations of nonprofit organizations. This means you could be charged with raising support and awareness for a particular intersectional group or facilitating partnerships between nonprofits that serve communities.
  • Social Work: A social work degreewill equip you to become a vital resource to marginalized people who need support in navigating intersectional issues. As a social worker, you can gain additional qualifications to help you meet specific intersectional community needs.
  • Communications: With a communications degree, you’ll become a master of effective messaging, communication, and public relations. These skills are key for facilitating discussion and support for both individual and intersectional minority groups. You might also use your degree to raise awareness and funding for intersectional populations.

Mental Health and Suicide Risk

Members of the LGBTQ community are at a much higher risk of experiencing mental health issues. The American Psychiatric Association reports that they’re 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse than heterosexual individuals. In a recent survey, 41% of LGBTQ youth admitted to considering suicide within the last year. It’s clear that this high-risk population needs access to mental health support and resources, which you could provide with a degree in the following fields:

  • Counseling: Counselors are an essential support for mental health, offering coping skills and strategies for their clients. They can also help prevent substance misuse and suicide. To provide direct care, you’ll need a master’s in counseling.
  • Psychology: With a master’s in psychology, you can delve into LGBTQ research, mental health challenges, and effective treatment approaches. Alternately, you can become a clinical psychologist and use those frameworks to provide support and diagnoses to clients.
  • Social Work: Social workers act as a resource and advocate for their clients. Whether you work with at-risk youth or adult members of the LGBTQ+ population, a social work program prepares you to be an ally and resource for mental health and physical safety for your clients.

Economic Insecurity

Poverty and unemployment are significant concerns for members of the LGBTQIA+ population. According to a recent report from UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, 17% of LGBT and 21% of transgender people live in poverty. When you consider LGBT households with children, the percentage living in poverty goes up to 26%. Poverty can snowball into several other issues, including poor mental health, chronic disease, higher mortality rates, malnutrition, and behavioral disorders. Consider these degrees if you’re interested in bolstering the economic security of marginalized populations:

  • Social Work: After graduating from a social work program, you’ll have tools to advocate for and assist LGBTQ individuals facing economic insecurity. Social workers are equipped to provide resources that support a more stable environment, including employment training, healthcare, and stable housing assistance.
  • Nonprofit Administration: A nonprofit administration degree will prepare you to lead and manage organizations. As a nonprofit administrator, you might raise funds that directly benefit economically insecure people or contribute to development programs and community program resources.
  • Public Policy: Pubic policy degrees prepare you to create and influence laws that prioritize economic safety and stability for LGBTQIA+ populations. As a public policy worker, you might advocate for equitable employment, social services funding, or anti-discrimination legislation.

Serving the LGBTQ Community as a Student

Even if you plan to dedicate your career to serving the LGBTQ community, you don’t have to wait until after graduation to get involved. In college, you can pursue internships and join advocacy efforts and student organizations, gaining valuable experience and making connections that can help you get a head start on your future career. Below, we’ve included several ways you can serve the LGBTQ community as a student.

Field Experience & Internships

If you’re looking to advocate for the LGBTQ community and gain worthwhile work experience, then field experience and internships are the perfect option. Many organizations offer internships exclusively to LGBTQIA+ students. But even if you aren’t part of the community, there are plenty of opportunities to gain practical experience. For example, PFLAG offers graduate and undergraduate, full- and part-time, paid internships to college students.

Practice allyship and advocacy as a student

Civil rights issues and oppression are a societal problem — even if you are not a part of a marginalized community. Practicing allyship and advocacy raises awareness and brings LGBTQ issues into the public eye. Even small actions make a big impact: Use people’s preferred pronouns, advocate for LGBTQ+ student rights, and plan inclusive events, among other ideas. Take responsibility for your own education with resources like UC Davis’ Ally Tips and LGBTQ Glossary.

Stay informed on the issues impacting LGBTQ populations

LGBTQ issues are consistently in the public eye at the local, national, and international levels. Staying up to date keeps you informed and effective as an advocate. To be a better ally, take advantage of news sources and organizations that report on the latest developments in public conversation and policy. Advocacy organizations like the Human Rights Campaign offer community news, and major news outlets like NBC, CBS, and the Associated Press all maintain LGBTQ news sections on their websites.

Join student organizations

If you’re an LGBTQIA+ student or student ally, organizations are an ideal place to find community. LGBTQ student organizations provide a welcoming and safe environment for students, faculty and staff to develop a better understanding of LGBTQ+ communities. Join these organizations to access programs, events, support, resources, and networking opportunities. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation maintains a directory of student and professional organizations; you can also check directly with your college to find organizations.

Network and make connections

Networking and making connections with other students and professionals in the field is an accessible and important way to become a better ally, build professional relationships, and gain hands-on experience. They’re also a helpful tool for finding jobs in the field after graduation. Many professions host individual organizations for LGBTQ professionals in the field. For example, you can network with other STEM students and professionals through oSTEM or journalists through The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists.

Paying for Your Degree: Scholarships and Financial Aid

A college degree in public service is a significant investment in your future career and allyship to the LGBTQ+ community. Like any student, you’re probably curious about how to find scholarships and financial aid options that will help you pay for your degree. Start your journey by filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Then, explore financial aid available to LGBTQIA+ students.

In addition to scholarships offered by individual schools, check out scholarship opportunities from private organizations and LGBTQ+ nonprofits. You’ll find a wealth of scholarships and fellowships awarded by organizations to LGBTQ+ students and those earning degrees to serve the community. For example, The Point Foundation is the largest LGBTQ scholarship-granting nonprofit.

Even if you’ve already taken out student loans, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to secure funding for your education. Student loan forgiveness programs, for example, partially or fully reimburse educational costs for students in certain disciplines who commit to working with under-served populations or geographic areas.

For more scholarships and information about student loans and loan forgiveness, check out our degree-specific resource guides:

Resources for Students Serving LGBTQIA Populations

Fortunately for those who want to support the LGBTQ community, there are many professional organizations, advocacy groups, and resources available. We’ve put together a list of 10 resources for students who are LGBTQ or who want to work with this underserved population.

  • The American Civil Liberties Union
    The ACLU advocates for LGTBQ people to be able to live without discrimination and fights for their equal rights, autonomy, and freedom of expression. On its website, you can find updates on anti-LGBTQ legislation, activism opportunities, and key areas of focus for the community.
  • Campus Pride Index
    Campus Pride Index was founded to create safer and more inclusive campus communities for LGBTQIA+ students. With its free online tool, you can search a database of LGBTQ-friendly campuses. Each school is rated according to institutional commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policy, program, and practice.
  • CenterLink
    CenterLink is an international nonprofit and member-based association of LGBTQ centers and organizations that serve local and regional communities. With over 375 member centers worldwide, CenterLink provides essential services and promotes growth, wellness, and connectivity in its host communities.
  • Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals
    This member-based organization supports those who work on college and university campuses to educate and support people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. It also advocates for inclusive policies and practices through an intersectional and racial justice lens.
  • GLMA Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ+ Equality
    GLMA is a national organization that supports health equity for LGBTQ+ communities and equality for LGBTQ+ health professionals. Originally open only to physicians, residents, and medial students, the GLMA now supports health professionals of all kinds, as well as patients and their families.
    GLSEN advocates on behalf of LGBTQ students in K-12 educational settings, so they can learn and grow in a school environment free from bullying and harassment. GLSEN’s programs focus on developing supportive educators, advocating for inclusive curriculum, passing LGBTQ-friendly policies, and supporting student-led LGBTQ+ clubs.
  • International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Intersex Law Association
    ILGLaw is an international association of LGBTI lawyers. Law professors, judges, law students, paralegals, and laypersons are also welcome to join. The sole condition is that they are committed to promoting and achieving LGBTI equality under the law.
  • Lambda Legal
    Lambda Legal is a civil rights organization focusing on LGBT communities and those living with HIV and AIDS. Lambda represents these populations in courts of law and public opinion, working to defend and expand protections for LGBTQ+ people.
  • LGBT Health Workforce Conference
    The Organization for Building the Next Generation of Academic Physicians hosts an annual LGBT Health Workforce Conference. This largest and most well-known national LGBT health workforce conference covers up-to-date practices in addressing health concerns and disparities in the LGBT community.
  • National LGBT Chamber of Commerce
    The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce is the largest advocacy organization focused on expanding economic opportunity for LGBTQ people. It’s also the only certifying body for LGBTQ-owned businesses.