For members of the LGBTQ community—especially those who identify as transgender— the rate of victimization from interpersonal crime and intimate partner violence (IPV) is staggering and alarming. More than 24 percent of undergraduate students identifying as transgender, genderqueer, questioning, or not listed (TGQN) experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. In 2015, the Association of American Universities found that one in four transgender students have experienced sexual assault since enrolling in college. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), lesbian, gay, and bisexual people experience violence at rates much higher than straight people. For instance, among rape victims, 48 percent of bisexual women reported being raped between the ages of 11 and 17 compared to 28 percent of their heterosexual female counterparts.
A 2021 study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault. And these crimes are more prevalent in trans people ages 16 and above. This suggests college administrators, faculty, and staff should be particularly diligent in gathering resources and supporting trans victims of interpersonal crimes.
In the article “College Sexual Assault and Campus Climate for Sexual- and Gender-Minority Students,“ authors Robert W.S. Coulter and Susan R. Rankin report that “sexual assault is significantly more prevalent among transgender students and compared with heterosexuals [and] sexual assault is significantly higher among gay/lesbian and bisexual undergraduates.” The Human Rights Campaign estimates that 47 percent of transgender people will experience a sexual assault during their lifetime.
Laura Dunn, the founder of advocacy group SurvJustice, suggests educational efforts to curb the violence and sexual assault of trans people should start as early as middle school by discussing sexual respect. “The high rates of sexual harassment indicate that campuses still have not done enough to manage their culture to allow TGQN students to feel welcome on campus.”
Currently, it seems politically expedient for those who choose to fight the culture wars to focus on the LGBTQ community. And some are particularly intentional in their efforts to single out transgender people. However, in higher education, Title IX stands as the vanguard against alienation or harassment of anyone based on their sexual orientation and gender identity by any educational program or institution that receives federal dollars.
Some institutions recognize their deficiencies in supporting and being an ally to LGBTQ students. In a Higher Education Today article, Kristen Renn writes that colleges and universities face a “particular challenge in understanding our needs and progress vis-à-vis LGBTQ students because [they] lack accurate institutional and national data on student sexual orientation and gender identity.
While campuses have become much more responsive to the needs of LGBTQ students, colleges and universities should still align policy, practice, programming, and pedagogy to support LGBTQ students remains a challenge and an opportunity for higher education leaders,” according to Higher Education Today.
Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, put it plainly: “[T]here’s little understanding of the true prevalence of sexual assault against transgender people because they ‘remain invisible,’ including on many college campuses. That invisibility often leads to transgender students being left out of prevention and policy efforts.”
Campuses must work harder and more creatively to be inclusive and ensure that college life is a safe, welcoming experience for all—especially transgender students. That means administrations must be vigilant, know the campus culture, and be proactive with resources and relationships with external partners to respond to students’ needs.
authored by Sandra Grady, Fahrenheit Creative Group