Skip to main content

Creating Inclusive Health and Counseling Centers

Your Guide to Best Practices

June 12, 2024

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of creating inclusive and welcoming health and counseling centers for LGBTQ+ students. Ensuring that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, feel safe and supported is crucial for their overall well-being and academic success.

Here are some practical steps and best practices to make health and counseling centers more inclusive for LGBTQ+ students.

1. Staff Training and Education:

Provide ongoing training for healthcare providers and counseling staff on LGBTQ+ health concerns and challenges. This includes understanding the specific mental health needs of LGBTQ+ students, as well as using inclusive language and respecting students’ preferred names and pronouns. Staff should be well-versed in cultural competency to create an environment where LGBTQ+ students feel seen and respected.

2. Inclusive Policies and Practices:

Work with campus leadership to develop and implement policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Ensure that these policies are clearly communicated to both staff and students. Incorporate inclusive practices such as providing gender-neutral bathrooms within your clinic and offering a range of options on intake forms to capture a student’s gender identity and preferred name. Make sure this information is prominently displayed in your EHR and scheduling systems so that staff can refer to a student the right way, the first time.

3. Visible Support and Resources:

Display LGBTQ+ affirming materials, such as posters, brochures, and pride flags in health and counseling centers. This visible support can help create a welcoming atmosphere. Additionally, provide resources and referrals to LGBTQ+-friendly healthcare providers and support groups both on-campus and in your local community.

Unique strategies for promoting resources to students can be found here.

4. Confidentiality and Privacy:

Ensure that confidentiality and privacy are prioritized, as many students may be concerned about being outed or facing discrimination. Reassure students that their information will be kept private and that their healthcare needs will be handled with sensitivity and respect.

5. Student Feedback and Involvement:

Engage LGBTQ+ students in the development and evaluation of health and counseling services. Solicit feedback through surveys, focus groups, and advisory committees to ensure that services are meeting their needs and to identify areas for improvement.

6. Comprehensive Coverage:

Advocate for student health insurance plans to include comprehensive coverage for LGBTQ+ healthcare needs. This should encompass routine care, mental health services, and specific needs such as hormone replacement therapy, gender-affirming surgeries, and other gender-affirming treatments. Ensuring that insurance plans do not exclude this type of care is critical for the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ students.

7. Policy Guidelines:

Refer to established guidelines and best practices, such as those provided by the American College Health Association (ACHA). ACHA provides a Trans-Inclusive College Health Programs guide for creating inclusive healthcare environments, for example. This guide provides recommendations on medical records, health informatics, mental health services, and continuing education and training.

8. Equitable Access:

Promote equitable access to healthcare services to ensure that all students can achieve their full academic potential. Addressing chronic or acute physical and mental health needs promptly can decrease the amount of time students lose to health issues and contribute to their overall success.

Real-World Examples and Best Practices

Drawing inspiration from successful initiatives in higher education, we can create more inclusive health and counseling centers.

Here are some examples of how schools across the country are prioritizing LGBTQ+ health and wellness:

  • Rutgers University offers comprehensive care for transgender and gender non-binary students through the Rutgers Center for Transgender Health. This center provides medical counseling, hormone therapy, hormone-level monitoring, and assistance with referrals to external providers such as surgeons and endocrinologists. Additionally, they help students with signing official name-change documents.

    Health services include continuous hormone therapy, laboratory testing, genital and chest reconstruction surgery, psychotherapy, and surgery to change secondary sex characteristics. Rutgers Student Health ensures gender-affirming care for all registered students, regardless of their insurance coverage, including those on the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP).

    Counseling services include individual and group counseling, crisis management, substance abuse assessment and treatment, and psychiatric services. The center is dedicated to improving transgender and non-binary health through evidence-based care, research, and education, aiming to create a welcoming and supportive environment throughout the gender affirmation process.

  • Tufts University offers comprehensive, inclusive health services for LGBTQIA+ students, including specialized trans health care, hormone treatment, and gender-affirming surgery information. Students can self-identify their name, gender identity, and pronouns in records.

    Gender-affirming hormone Treatment (GAHT) and surgeries follow World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH) guidelines, with support for medication and ongoing care. Insurance and billing assistance is available, and mental health support is provided throughout the process. The university also offers additional resources for ongoing support and name changes.

  • Ohio State University’s Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service (CCS) offers extensive mental health support for LGBTQ+ students through one-on-one counseling, drop-in consultations, and specialized workshops and support groups. Several therapists specialize in LGBTQ+ concerns. CCS supports groups for queer undergraduate and graduate students, plus transgender/non-binary students.

    The Gender Affirming Primary Care Clinic offers transition-related care, primary care, STI testing, HIV PrEP, vaccinations, hormone therapy, and referrals for gender-affirming surgery. The clinic emphasizes teaching future medical professionals to provide affirming care to the transgender community.

Key Takeaways

Creating inclusive health and counseling centers for LGBTQ+ students is not just about meeting regulatory requirements; it is about fostering an environment where all students can thrive.

By implementing practical steps such as staff training, inclusive clinic policies, and comprehensive healthcare coverage, institutions can ensure that LGBTQ+ students feel supported and valued. This, in turn, contributes to their academic success and overall well-being.

As we move forward, continuous engagement with the LGBTQ+ community will be essential in refining these practices and addressing emerging needs.

Learn more about how campuses are focusing on LGBTQ+ mental health here. Connect with a member of our team.