Every year since 2007, Campus Pride, a national nonprofit, has released its ranking of the nation's most LGBTQ-inclusive colleges and universities. The Campus Pride Index sets benchmarks such as gender-neutral housing options and nondiscrimination policies to determine which campuses make the cut.
This year's Top 25 LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges and Universities list was released on Monday.
"There’s a lot of confusion as to what makes a campus LGBTQ-inclusive," Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer told NBC News. "A lot of campuses think just because they have an LGBTQ student group or because they have a policy that says they don’t discriminate that automatically makes them LGBTQ-friendly."
Windmeyer said LGBTQ student organizations often don't receive institutional backing or funding, and that LGBTQ people looking for the right college to attend may be left in the dark as to what constitutes a truly inclusive environment.
"What Campus Pride does is take research based on campuses and LGBTQ populations and comes up with 80 different benchmarks of LGBTQ inclusion that allows a young person who is looking at the right campus to make a decision on many different factors," Windmeyer explained.
Among those benchmarks is a mentorship program that helps introduce young LGBTQ people to their new environment. These young people, Windmeyer said, often closet themselves again as they get a feel for how safe it is to be out on their campus. They also tend to struggle more with substance abuse, depression and suicidality, Windmeyer added.
This year, many colleges and universities from coastal states like California and New York were represented in the list. But there were also entries from Ohio, Minnesota and North Carolina. The list, sorted by alphabetical order, includes the University of Louisville, Ithaca College, Princeton University and Elon University, just to name a few. The full list can be found here.
"There are colleges in progressive areas of the country like New York and California that have state and local government support on the list," Windmeyer said. "But we also have schools in Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina who have been working very hard despite the conservative climate in their states."
Windmeyer also said only 18 to 19 percent of college campuses have a nondiscrimination statement, and that Campus Pride will be releasing a "Worst of the Worst" list on September 12.
"We still have a long way to go," he said.