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Photo: Daniel Xu | Contributing Photographer / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Penn is among the 30 most LGBT-friendly colleges in the nation, according to nonprofit organization Campus Pride.After an analysis of policies and programs at over 235 institutions, Penn, along with Tufts University and the University of Washington, were among 15 schools awarded perfect ratings by the organization.

Chair of Lambda Alliance and Nursing senior Ian Jeong agreed with Penn's placement on the list. In January this year, Jeong attended the Creating Change Conference organized in Chicago by the National LGBTQ task force to discuss issues of LGBTQ equality. 

At a caucus for student leaders, Jeong found that many of the changes that other schools were proposing had already been implemented at Penn. For example, delegates raised the need for gender neutral bathrooms as well as the freedom to change names and genders on academic records. Both practices are already a reality on our campus.

“In many ways, Penn’s administration is leading the way for what universities ought to strive towards [for LGBT rights],” said Vice-Chair of Internal Affairs of Lambda Alliance and College junior Sean Collins. Both Collins and Jeong highlighted the pivotal role that the LGBT Center, one of the first in the nation, has played in cultivating a queer-friendly campus.

Apart from providing a physical space for students to interact and form networks, the LGBT Center also has several channels of funding to support queer students in their endeavors. Most notably, the center has a Small Programs Fund where individuals can apply for funding even if they are not part of a registered student group. Jeong said this provision is essential for queer students who may not always be ready to openly identify themselves as part of a LGBTQ advocacy group.

The ranking released by Campus Pride acknowledges the progress that various groups have worked to achieve at Penn. However, student leaders believe that it is somewhat of a misnomer to rate the school “five out of five” given that there is still considerable work to be done for the LGBTQ community.

For one, Jeong pointed out that transphobia is still a pervasive problem at Penn. While trans students can find respite in the LGBT Center, there are still many spaces on campus where progress needs to be made. And even welcoming spaces may not be entirely accessible for low-income students. 

In addition, many of the colleges deemed LGBTQ-friendly — Penn included — cost above average to attend. According to an Aug. 23 article published in Out Magazine, the nine private schools in the list compiled by Campus Pride cost an average of $61,490 per year. For the academic year of 2016-17, Penn cost $69,340 — close to 30 percent above the national average of $49,265 for private universities.

These figures suggest that the schools which are the most safe and nurturing for LGBTQ students may also be the ones that they may find most difficult to attend. This becomes even more problematic when taken in consideration with the results of a recent study by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention: more than 30 percent of LGBTQ teenagers have attempted suicide in the past year as compared to only 6 percent of straight, cis-gender teenagers. LGBTQ teenagers are also twice as likely to experience bullying.

Queer students urgently need a safe space to pursue their collegiate education. While Out Magazine correctly highlighted the high sticker prices of LGBTQ-friendly universities, it overlooked that many of the universities listed also offer some of the highest financial aid packages in the nation. For Penn's class of 2019, the average financial aid package provided was $48,605; financial aid applicants who had an annual family income of less than $40,000 received an average of $63,790. According to U.S. News & World Report, Penn is the ninth-most generous private institution in terms of financial aid.

“We’ve come a long way,” Collins said with regard to LGBTQ recruitment. “However, as with the establishment of marriage equality last year — just because we’ve come a long way doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a long way to go.” 

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