Rural School- and Community-Based Programs Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth


In-school discrimination, bullying, and harassment faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) youth has been associated with many negative health outcomes, including higher rates of depression, substance use, and suicidality. For LGBTQ+ youth living in rural areas, these issues may be compounded by less visibility and fewer resources specifically for LGBTQ+ residents. Prior research has found that LGBTQ+ students in rural areas report overall more hostile school climates than their suburban or urban counterparts, including biased language, harassment and violence, and anti-LGBTQ+ discriminatory school policies and practices.

Social connection is an important determinant of health, and, particularly for youth, having an organized and safe space to connect with other LGBTQ+ youth can be an important component of living a healthy life. School-based clubs such as Genders and Sexualities Alliances or Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) are one such resource that can be a safe and affirming space for LGBTQ+ students while also providing opportunities for students to advocate for change within their school and help foster a more inclusive school environment. Having a GSA has also been associated with many positive outcomes for LGBTQ+ students, including students reporting a higher sense of school belonging, being less likely to report feeling unsafe or being victimized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and being more likely to have interventions from staff when hearing derogatory remarks. However, LGBTQ+ students in rural areas are much less likely to have a GSA at their school, with only 24% of rural students reporting having a GSA in 2021 compared with 42% of suburban and 36% of urban students. Rural LGBTQ+ youth may also seek groups outside their school to find community, but unfortunately rural students are also less likely to report living in a community with such support.

This case series highlights examples of four school- and community-based organizations supporting LGBTQ+ youth, including two high school GSAs, one university LGBTQ+ center, and one community-based organization.

University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center
Madeleine Pick, Robert Libal, Mariana Tuttle, Carrie Henning-Smith