Cody Nobles hopes to study environmental science or marine biology at a university in a coastal town, where he can observe marine life firsthand.
But after his native Florida adopted legislation restricting LGBTQ rights, Nobles, who is gay, plans to find a similar environment in a different political climate. The 19-year-old says he wouldn’t have to worry as much about discrimination or even physical assault in California.
“I got a reality check and realized that I might have to involve those things where I go, because you never know where I might go,” Cody said, expressing concern that he might have to attend school. in “a place that has a history of hate crimes or a very outdated point of view when it comes to gender.”
“For me personally, I naturally assumed that I would go to college here,” he said. «But if things got worse, then I guess I wouldn’t have a choice.»
Florida state lawmakers have passed laws blocking classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary schools and aiming to restrict race-based discussion and analysis in business and education. . Another recent bill would allow the state board that oversees public universities to issue directions on eliminating majors and majors in subjects like critical race theory and gender studies and prohibit spending on programs or activities that support such plans. study.
Cody’s mother, Cindy Nobles, who serves as president of the Jacksonville chapter of LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG, said the Florida legislation has «changed the way I look at every school.»
“Now, instead of worrying about whether he’s going to be a good fit for the major he wants to study in, I have to look at the board of directors. I have to look at the political views of the people in charge of the schools and figure out whether or not they’ll be a good fit before I even care about their specialty.»
Interviews with students, parents, and college counselors suggest that LGBTQ youth are on strike at universities in states where such legislation is being pushed. Some students worry about having access to hormone therapy while in school, some want to attend schools with all-gender housing options, and others fear that hostile rhetoric puts them at greater risk of physical violence.
Across the country, state legislators have moved to restrict LGBTQ rights with hundreds of banknotes already this year, including in Texas, Alabama, Tennessee and Arizona. Some of the bills ban transgender students from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity, while others would prevent people from change your gender identity in official documents or force teachers to tell parents about any information they learn about a student’s gender identity.
Advocates say a change in LGBTQ students’ college applications could lead to less diversity at universities, where part of the learning experience is meeting people from different backgrounds. Others, like Sarah Eckhardt, a Democratic state senator from Texas, also warn that legislation targeting LGBTQ rights could stifle academic research and hurt the state’s economy.
«Our state is home to some of the best universities in the country, but many Republican lawmakers are determined to infringe on the rights and safety of the very students, faculty and staff who make up these world-class institutions,» an Eckhardt spokesperson said. in a statement to NBC News. «With nearly 75 bills filed that would be detrimental to our LGBTQ+ community, and the state as a whole, Texans have an uphill battle to advocate for simple equality.»
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a possible 2024 presidential candidate, recently asked Florida state universities to report data on the number of students who sought or received treatment for gender dysphoria, including sex reassignment surgery and hormones. And last week, a bill was introduced in the Florida Legislature that would direct universities to eliminate majors and majors in gender studies and other diversity-related programs, an issue DeSantis has championed.
“Like DEI and CRT, radical gender ideology has supplanted academics at many institutions of higher learning,” Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis deputy press secretary, wrote in a statement, referring to policies on diversity, equity and inclusion. and critical race theory, which teaches about structural racism. “We are committed to fully understanding the amount of public funding that goes into such non-academic activities in order to better assess how to refocus our colleges and universities on education and truth.”
Redfern declined to provide evidence for his claim or comment on whether he thought fewer LGBTQ students would want to attend Florida’s public colleges and universities as a result of the state’s actions.
While research on how anti-LGBTQ legislation might affect college applications is limited, college counselors say families are increasingly raising the issue as a factor in their decisions about where to attend. Venkates Swaminathan, chief executive of LifeLaunchr, a college admissions consulting firm, said that 20 to 30 of the few hundred students he works with each year raise concerns about state legislation. Daniel Santos, Prepory’s executive director of college advising, echoed the point, adding that one of his gay students removed all colleges in a red state from his list this year, removing the University of Florida, the University of Texas at Austin , Washington and Lee University. and Washington University in St. Louis.
Eric Sherman, a counselor at IvyWise, a college admissions counseling firm in New York, said that 10-15% of the students he works with point to the campus climate for LGBTQ students as a concern. LGBTQ students tended to “categorically exclude certain parts of the country,” he said.
Brandon Wolf, press secretary for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, said fear is driving the issue.
“Sending a child out of the nest and into the world for the first time is already really scary when you’ve spent 18 years making sure they eat three full meals a day, get dressed and shower in the morning. «It’s scary to send them into the world for the first time, and that becomes infinitely scarier when you’re worried about sending them to a state where simply being the person they are could put them in grave danger. Because the most powerful leader in that state has put a target on their backs.”
Cases of violence against LGBTQ people more than tripled in the past year, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Renan Barker, a 17-year-old Ohio resident who uses they/he pronouns, said he wanted to attend school in California, where he wouldn’t fear for his safety. But Barker couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition and will attend Kent State University instead. Barker expressed fear of leaving home, beyond the nervous excitement many students feel before starting college.
“If something were to happen to me, if I’m the victim of a hate crime or something like that, I can’t just go home and say, ‘Mom, help me.’ I don’t have that comfort, that net,» Barker said.
Stella Keating refuses to go to school in a state where anti-trans bills have reached the full legislature, indicating support from lawmakers. She added that the rhetoric from politicians about LGBTQ people has negatively affected her mental health. “Excuse the behavior. It allows transphobia everywhere,” Keating said. “It makes it seem like, ‘Oh, well, my senator can do this and so can I. And I can make fun of the trans kids at my school, okay.’ That seeps into everyday life.”
according to a survey 2021 According to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention group, 94% of LGBTQ youth said the recent policy had negatively affected their mental health.
Parents of LGBTQ students also said concerns about state policy are influencing how they approach school options for their children.
Melissa McLaren, an Ohio resident with a transgender daughter, said she checked university sites to see if they had LGBTQ-specific housing as an option, health services for LGBTQ students and mental health programs for LGBTQ youth.
Cindy Nobles researched campus crime rates and anti-LGBTQ violence for schools of interest to Cody.
“Right now there are so many things that we have to worry about, to be honest, I don’t even know where to start,” Nobles said. «He just made what should be a fun time in his life very scary for me as a father.»
Some universities in conservative states have taken steps to counter the potential influence of anti-LGBTQ legislation, emphasizing their openness to LGBTQ students, said Ellen Kahn, senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group. Anti-LGBTQ legislation has been a «wake-up call» for higher education leaders, and some colleges and universities have begun competing to be a school of choice for LGBTQ students, she added.
Duke University, for example, added an option to your app form to allow LGBTQ students to write about his identity and how it affects them, Santos said. Sherman added that students seem more receptive to applying to schools with websites that emphasize an LGBTQ student center and other support mechanisms.
Shane Windmeyer, founder and CEO of Campus Pride, which helps students identify LGBTQ-friendly campuses, said comprehensive policies are crucial for students who, for financial reasons, must attend a public university in their state. Some universities in red states, such as the University of North Florida and the University of Texas at Austin, serve as a «safe haven» for LGBTQ students, Windmeyer said.
Wolf of Equality Florida said Florida’s higher education system loses talented students due to state legislation, a point Kahn echoed, saying he worries about «brain drain.»
Meanwhile, Cindy Nobles said she is considering sending Cody to school in Michigan, where his sisters live and feels he would be safer. «He’s definitely put himself on the table,» Cindy Nobles said. «As much as I don’t want to see him move across the country, for his safety I might have to.»