Fostering Inclusivity for LGBTQ Students
in Study Abroad Programs

In this article, explore strategies for fostering inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students in study abroad programs to ensure a safe, respectful, and enriching experience.

Imagine setting foot in a foreign country where the sights, sounds, and cultures are unfamiliar. For students embarking on study-abroad programs, this is an exhilarating leap into a world of discovery and learning. However, LGBTQ+ students in study abroad programs often experience a suitcase full of anxieties and questions when embarking on study-abroad programs: Will I be accepted? Are my identity and relationships respected here? How do I navigate the complexities of a new cultural landscape while staying true to myself? Addressing these concerns is not just about creating a safe space; it’s about weaving inclusivity into the fabric of study abroad programs. This article explores strategies to foster a study abroad environment where diversity isn’t just acknowledged but celebrated.

Understanding LGBTQ+ Identities

When planning study abroad programs, it’s essential to begin with a basic understanding of LGBTQ+ identities. The acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, with the plus sign encompassing other sexual orientations and gender identities. These terms represent a spectrum of identities, each with its own unique experiences and challenges. Educators must understand this diversity to create an inclusive and supportive environment for all students. Here is a list of relevant gender and sexuality terminology:

Gender expansive individuals identify and/or express their genders in ways that broaden cultural understandings of gender. This identity can encompass people who are genderqueer, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and otherwise not cisgender.

Genderqueer people sometimes (but do not always) identify and/or express their genders outside of the gender binary. They may also (but do not necessarily) identify and/or express their genders as fluid.

Nonbinary individuals identify and/or express their genders in ways that fall outside of the gender binary. Nonbinary can be (but is not always) used as an umbrella term

Gender nonconforming people identify and/or express their genders in ways that do not align with societal conceptions of gender.

Transgender (or trans) individuals are people whose genders differ from the sex they were assigned at birth. This can include people whose genders are opposite the sex that they were assigned at birth and those whose genders fall outside of, in between, or otherwise differ from the normative gender binary as defined by society.

Transgender (or trans) individuals are people whose genders differ from the sex they were assigned at birth. This can include people whose genders are opposite the sex that they were assigned at birth and those whose genders fall outside of, in between, or otherwise differ from the normative gender binary as defined by society.

Cisgender individuals are people whose genders align with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Gender policing is the act of forcing normative ideas of gendered behavior and expression on individuals, especially those who violate gender norms. Gender-policing may occur through verbal comments, nonverbal behaviors, or physical violence.

Queer is a historically derogatory term that has been re-appropriated by many LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and more) individuals who now utilize it as an identity label. This term may refer to gender and/or sexuality and can function as an umbrella term for people who are not heterosexual and/or not cisgender.

Sapiosexual is a sexual identity term used by individuals whose experience of sexual and/or romantic arousal is stimulated by the intelligence of their partner(s).

Pansexual is a sexual identity term used by individuals who experience sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of all genders.

(Taylor Michl, 2019)

Creating Safe Spaces

Safe spaces are crucial for LGBTQ+ students, providing them with an environment where they can express themselves without fear of judgment or discrimination. In the context of study abroad programs, these can be physical spaces on campus or within program activities, as well as metaphorical spaces created through supportive policies and practices. Strategies for establishing these safe spaces include setting clear anti-discrimination policies, offering confidential counseling services, and organizing LGBTQ+-focused events or support groups.

Approaches for Fostering Inclusivity For LGBTQ+ Students in Study Abroad Programs

Educators and program coordinators can implement several practical solutions to foster inclusivity in their study abroad programs:

1. Program Selection: Tailoring Program Options for LGBTQ+ Students

Rather than presenting program options you may feel are best suited for LGBTQ+- identified students, start with the full portfolio of program options, and help them decide which experience will best meet their goals and objectives. Once a student has described the type of experience they would like to pursue, an advisor may help them understand whether or not a particular option meets their needs. At a minimum, the advisor can point the student to additional resources to explore regarding the country’s climate (LGBTQ+ Student Advising Guide for Education Abroad Professionals).

2. Pre-Departure Orientation: Understanding Legal and Cultural Contexts

Pre-departure orientation is a critical step in preparing LGBTQ+ students for their study abroad experience. Pre-departure advising materials should be inclusive of LGBTQ+ topics. Just as LGBTQ+ advising resources should be available to all students, LGBTQ+ resources and information should be covered in the pre-departure that everyone receives because it is critical that LGBTQ+ students and allies alike have access to pertinent information while preparing to go abroad (LGBTQ+ Student Advising Guide for Education Abroad Professionals).

This orientation should provide comprehensive information about the legal and cultural landscape of the host country, with a specific focus on LGBTQ+ issues. Topics might include local laws regarding same-sex relationships, gender expression, and LGBTQ+ rights. Additionally, cultural attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals should be discussed to give students a realistic expectation of what they might encounter. This orientation can be complemented with resources like contact information for local LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, tips for safe travel, and guidelines for navigating potentially challenging situations. Check out our DEI resources page, which can be a valuable source of information for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

3. Inclusive Housing Options: Sensitive Accommodation Arrangements

Housing is a fundamental aspect of the study abroad experience, and it’s imperative that housing arrangements are sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ+ students. This can involve providing gender-inclusive housing options, ensuring roommates are LGBTQ+-friendly, and establishing clear anti-discrimination policies within housing facilities. Housing staff should be trained to handle LGBTQ+-related issues sensitively and confidentially.

If there are transgender students in your program, ensure that you coordinate accommodations for them, considering that some facilities may have single-gender residences. Furthermore, providing options for private accommodations can be a helpful alternative for students who may need or prefer them.

4. Healthcare Access: Ensuring Respectful and Inclusive Care

Access to healthcare that is respectful and understanding of LGBTQ+ needs is essential. This involves identifying healthcare providers in the host country who are known to be LGBTQ+-friendly and providing this information to students. It’s also important to educate students about the healthcare system of the host country, including insurance coverage, the availability of gender-affirming treatments, and mental health resources. Pre-departure briefings should include information on how to access emergency healthcare services and what to do in case of a medical crisis.

5. Support Networks: Building Community and Connection

Establishing support networks is vital for the well-being of LGBTQ+ students abroad. These networks can include connections with local LGBTQ+ groups, which can offer invaluable support, resources, and a sense of community. Facilitating meetups, mentorship programs, or social events with these groups can help students feel more at home in a foreign environment. Additionally, creating a peer support system within the study abroad program, where students can share experiences and advice, can also be beneficial.

6. Feedback Mechanisms: Encouraging Continuous Improvement

Implementing a system for students to provide feedback about their study abroad experience is crucial for continuous improvement. This could be in the form of regular check-ins, anonymous surveys, or a suggestion box. Feedback should be sought not only about the study program but also about accommodation, support services, and overall inclusivity. Regularly reviewing and acting on this feedback ensures that the needs of LGBTQ+ students are being met and that any issues are addressed promptly and effectively.

The Last Word: Embracing Inclusivity in Study Abroad Experiences

Cultivating inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students in study abroad programs requires a multifaceted approach. It starts with understanding the diverse identities and extends to adapting to the legal and cultural context of the host country. Raising awareness, creating safe spaces, and considering various aspects of student life are all integral to this endeavor. The goal is to ensure that every student, regardless of their identity, has an enriching, safe, and inclusive study abroad experience. This commitment not only enhances the individual journey of each student but also contributes to building a more accepting and diverse global community.


  • LGBTQ+ Student Advising Guide for Education Abroad Professionals. (n.d.). Retrieved from NAFSA:

  • Taylor Michl, K. P. (2019). Gender x Culture: A pilot project exploring the study abroad experiences of trans and gender expansive students. Frontiers: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad.

If you’d like more information about our study-abroad programs or have any questions, we welcome you to connect with us.