How Do LGBTQ+ Students Fare at Christian Colleges? It’s Complicated.

Our research, based on large-scale student surveys, finds a surprising and complex interplay of religion and mental health at US universities.

In 2021, the Religious Exception Accountability Project (REAP) brought a lawsuit calling for “an end to the U.S. Department of Education’s complicity in the abuses and unsafe conditions thousands of LGBTQ+ students endure at hundreds of taxpayer-funded, religious colleges and universities.”

The underlying premise of REAP’s suit is that the federal government “is duty-bound by Title IX and the U.S. Constitution to protect sexual and gender minority students at taxpayer-funded colleges and universities”—and this means ending religious exemptions for schools, including many Christian colleges, which order student life according to traditional theologies of sex and gender.

The REAP case, which is ongoing two years later, is not the only reason the experiences of LGBTQ+ students on Christian campuses are closely scrutinized, of course. And neither is REAP the only voice claiming Christian colleges are subjecting thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of LGBTQ+ students to abuse and its effects, like poor mental health.

Until recently, there have been no studies testing that claim by comparing the mental health of LGBTQ+ students at religious and non-religious universities. While the individual stories of students are necessary, it is equally necessary to have rigorous, empirical studies evaluating the proposition that religious universities are causing harm. Our article, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders (one of the top journals in the field), is the first analysis of this kind.

Using data collected by the Healthy Minds Study, we examined over 135,000 university students from around the nation, around 30,000 of whom self-identified as LGBTQ+. …

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