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Empowerment Through Education: Online Master’s Degrees for LGBTQIA+

Whether you are part of the LGBTQIA+ community or identify as an ally, pursuing a master’s degree online can lead to impactful careers that create positive change. By considering the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals, you can choose a field of study that directly addresses, alleviates, or mitigates discrimination, paving the way for future generations.

In 2022 alone, state lawmakers introduced more than 300 bills targeting the rights of LGBTQAI+ individuals. Sadly, this is just one of many statistics highlighting the discrimination members of the LGBTQIA+ community face at home, in school, in the workplace, and even in healthcare settings.

If you are looking to channel your frustration into a fulfilling career that facilitates inclusivity, acceptance, and diversity, there are many online LGBTQIA+ master’s degrees that can empower you to make positive changes. Keep reading for more information on the main challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community, along with related online master’s degrees, careers, and resources.

Educational Challenges

Interestingly, 22% of LGBTQ students choose to attend colleges away from home compared to just 5% of their non-LGBTQ peers. These students likely see going away to college as a way to escape the discrimination and harassment they faced growing up. The unfortunate reality, however, is that 33% of LGBTQ college students still report being bullied, harassed, or assaulted as they pursue their degrees.

If you are passionate about helping future LGTBQIA+ students feel safe and supported while they attend college, pursuing an online master’s degree in the educational field is a great route. Upon graduation, you can work within postsecondary institutions to directly support LGBTQIA+ college students.

Hybrid Master’s Program

George Mason University offers a 36-credit Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) program with a Women and Gender Studies Concentration. This hybrid program features in-person and online learning and blends research, education, and political action while centering on the intersections between gender, sexuality, class, and race. Experiential learning is at the core of this degree, with students commonly pursuing internships in Washington, D.C., at organizations that support sex workers, trans and queer people, women, and immigrants. In recent years, students have taken internships allowing them to address issues such as youth unemployment, gender inequality, disability advocacy, and women’s human rights.

Required coursework includes:

  • Feminist and Queer Theory
  • Transnational and Global Feminisms
  • Critical Race Theory

These courses give students a broad perspective, empowering them to advocate for people of all genders, sexualities, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Mason’s MAIS offers a “Design Your Own Degree” approach, allowing students to choose specializations such as women and gender studies, social justice and human rights, religious studies, social entrepreneurship, and more. Best of all, the school has a five out of five stars on the Campus Pride Index.

This 36-credit degree takes approximately three years to complete, and tuition for in-state graduate students at George Mason is about $13,312 each year. Out-of-state students should expect to pay about $29,584 per year. You’ll find two program scholarships available to MAIS students: the Cynthia Wynn Herman Scholarship Endowment and the Franki Rutherford Memorial Scholarship.

Related Careers

Earning a MAIS from George Mason University provides students with a wide array of career options. The type of career you’re best suited for depends on the specialization and/or internship you choose. Top career paths include teaching and education, public service, gender-based violence prevention, international human rights, community organizing, and non-profit work.

Graduates often choose careers in education, activism, and social work or even join/create foundations seeking to address the educational challenges affecting the LGBTQIA+ community. The bottom line is that students are more likely to work in careers that help address critical social issues that affect the world.

Educational Resources

Pursuing a master’s degree online can feel isolating, no matter what community you belong to. Luckily, this program is hybrid, which means you will complete some classes and objectives in person. But if you’re still feeling secluded while earning your degree, George Mason University is a member of the National Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. This provides students with a wide array of assistance to help make pursuing a master’s degree more bearable.

A few additional resources that may prove helpful as you work to overcome educational challenges:

Campus Pride Index

If finding a school that aligns with your community is important, check out Campus Pride Index. This free online tool allows prospective students, families, and those interested in higher education to search a database of campuses that actively work to improve the academic experience of LGBTQIA+ students.

LGBTQIA+ Financial Aid Resources

There are a few scholarship options available to LGBTQIA+ graduate students. For example, the Point Foundation — the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ students of merit — empowers LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential through scholarship funding, mentorship, leadership development, and community service training. For more financial aid information, check out our scholarship and resources guides for transgender and nonbinary graduate students and master’s-level LGBTQIA+ students.

Environmental Discrimination

According to UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, LGBTQIA+ students are more than twice as likely to experience bullying and harassment while living on campus than their non-LGBTQIA+ counterparts. They are also approximately four times more likely to experience online harassment while living on campus and six times more likely to experience unfair treatment from residence staff.

College living experiences are only one form of potential environmental discrimination facing the LGBTQIA+ population. If you want to empower communities to make changes and create more welcoming experiences for marginalized people, consider the following master’s program.

Online Master’s Program

Arizona State University (ASU) offers an Online Master of Arts in Social Justice and Human Rights program that enables graduates to make changes in how members of the LGBTQIA+ community are treated in different environments. This 33-credit program teaches students to address the intersectionality between social identity and human rights. Throughout the program, students identify and study key issues, theories, and applied practices related to areas like global justice and humanitarianism. It costs $12,373 per academic year and takes 18 to 24 months to complete.

To graduate from this program, you must complete a wide range of thematic courses and a capstone e-portfolio. You’ll also have opportunities to participate in original research focused on immigration.

Some of the courses you’ll encounter in this program include:

  • Gender-Based Violence and Sex Trafficking
  • Action Research in Social Justice and Human Rights
  • Grant Writing for Social Justice and Human Rights
  • International Law and Organizations

Such courses help graduates understand why abuse and discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community occurs and how to counteract it. Your education, combined with a passion for social justice, will provide you with the skills to design future research projects and write grants supporting vulnerable populations.

Related Careers

After earning an MA in Social Justice and Human Rights, graduates can pursue careers as grant managers, non-profit agency managers, humanitarian aid workers, international governmental organization professionals, and nongovernmental organization professionals. These positions often involve fundraising, non-profit administration, or working with governmental organizations to help develop initiatives, create policies, and allocate resources to address environmental LGBTQIA+ discrimination.

Environmental Resources

Institutionally, ASU values diversity and individuality and attempts to resolve all personal conflicts with dignity. Students have many environmental resources available to them at ASU. For instance, LGBTQIA+ students can take advantage of ASU’s Committee for Campus Inclusion, which promotes a positive campus environment that champions diversity and inclusion. This committee exists to create a more harmonious environment for students from all walks of life. This makes ASU a great option for anyone concerned about bullying and harassment online or on campus.

Below are some additional resources created to help LGBTQIA+ individuals with environmental and housing discrimination:

HUD Exchange

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Exchange provides resources and assistance to help combat LGTBQ homelessness and housing discrimination. HUD and other Federal partners, including the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), work to prevent and end homelessness — and all forms of housing and shelter discrimination —against all members of the LGBTQ community.

ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) works in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties outlined in the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU has a dedicated resources page for the LGBTQIA+ community, including information on fair housing and nondiscrimination protections.

Medical Prejudice

Medical prejudices affect the LGBTQIA+ community in various ways. For instance, a Center for American Progress survey revealed that 8% of LGBTQIA+ respondents said their healthcare provider refused to treat them because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. Also, 7% of respondents reported that their doctor refused to recognize their family members (i.e., children or same-sex partners), while another 7% reported experiencing unwanted physical contact from their healthcare providers. Everyone in the U.S. should be allowed fair and unbiased healthcare, without exception. Interested in learning ideas for bridging this gap and bringing more inclusive healthcare to all communities? Check out this comprehensive guide.

Online Master’s Program

University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing & Professional Studies offers a Master of Professional Studies in Sexual Health. This 100% virtual program was created to help students interested in diverse perspectives to gain a more profound understanding of the biological, sociocultural, and personal foundations of sexual health. This school has a Campus Pride Index score of 4.5/5 stars, making it a strong choice for LGBTQIA+ students.

This program was created based on the melding of curriculum from two graduate certificates: Human Sexuality and Sex Therapy. It includes courses such as the following:

  • Human Sexuality Foundations
  • Sexual Pleasure
  • Sexual Health Education
  • Health Care for Transgender
  • Gender-Diverse Adults

This program takes two to four years to complete, costing $900 per credit (or $10,800 for 12 credits or more). The University of Minnesota also offers various financial aid resources for the LGBTQIA+ community. For instance, they offer several first-year fellowship programs, as well as the following fellowship/funding opportunities:

  • Woodrow Wilson National Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies
  • GWSS Graduate Research Partnership Program
  • Mark & Judy Yudof Fellowship for Science Policy and Ethics
  • DeWitt and Stout Wallace Fellowships
  • Schochet Graduate Fellowship in GLBTQ Studies
  • Susan Geiger Graduate Fellowship
  • Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships
  • Fulbright Fellowships for International Research

Related Careers

Upon graduation, students can pursue career titles such as sexual health advocate, sex educator, sexual health practitioner, social worker, sex counselor/therapist, or allied health professional. In other words, graduates can enjoy various career paths with sexual health as a foundation or central component.

Additional Resources

Finding fair and equitable healthcare for LGBTQIA+ individuals can be a frustrating, confusing, and discouraging process. Fortunately, some great resources are available to help you find an allied provider, report unfair treatment, and gain safe and fair healthcare.

OutCare Health

OutCare is a nonprofit dedicated to creating a world where every LGBTQ+ person can access quality healthcare and feel empowered to live their healthiest, most authentic life. OutCare provides comprehensive healthcare resources for LGBTQIA+ people, including a directory of affirming healthcare providers by state.

World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)

WPATH is a nonprofit organization that promotes and advances evidence-based healthcare research for transgender people. The organization strives to improve medical professionals’ understanding and treatment of gender dysphoria. Transgender patients looking for affirming healthcare can use WPATH’s provider directory search to find a participating healthcare provider in their area.

Mental & Emotional Struggles

American Psychiatry Association research suggests that members of the LGBTQIA+ community are twice as likely as heterosexuals to develop a mental disorder at some point. Also, women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are twice as likely to engage in heavy alcohol use. The study additionally points out that minority transgender individuals with cultural identities of Multiracial/Mixed Race, Hispanic/Latino, African American/Black, or American Indian/Alaska Native are at an increased risk of attempting suicide compared with their white counterparts.

Those pursuing master’s degrees are certainly not immune from these statistics, especially in environments that negatively affect their mental health, such as discriminatory college campuses. Here is an overview of a master’s degree that can be funneled into a career that addresses these issues.

Online Master’s Program

National University offers an online LGBTQ Couple and Family Therapy MA-MFT Program that provides professionals with the skills to address the unique issues affecting LGBTQIA+ couples and families. This 45-credit program takes an estimated 33 months to complete and costs about $442 per credit, translating to $19,890 for the entire degree.

The highly flexible curriculum features weekly course starts with the ability to complete work around your responsibilities and obligations. Students also receive personalized guidance and mentoring from their professors, who hold a doctoral degree.

In this specialization, you must complete a research course focused on issues related to working with LGBTQ couples and families and at least 100 hours of clinical experience in an approved setting with a qualified local clinical supervisor.

Graduates of this practical program can do the following:

  • Help LGBTQ couples and families overcome barriers to improved mental health.
  • Competently work with various populations, especially members of the LGBTQIA+ community, in clinical settings.
  • Use family systems theories to treat patients.
  • Help patients improve decision-making processes.

Related Careers

Given that this degree enables graduates to work in a wide variety of settings, there are many job opportunities:

  • Marriage and family therapist (MFT)
  • Health educator
  • Teacher
  • Case manager
  • Clinical director
  • Therapist
  • Crisis response specialist
  • Social worker
  • School counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Residential counselor

Graduates can choose careers in education, correctional facilities, hospitals, colleges, private practices, substance abuse/treatment centers, mental health facilities, and more, making this an incredibly versatile degree.

Mental Health Resources

While mental and emotional struggles are common among every demographic, members of the LGBTQIA+ community face unique challenges that can exacerbate their well-being. Below are some resources that can help LGBTQIA+ individuals struggling with mental health.

Better Help

Therapy can be costly, especially for economically unstable people. Fortunately, Better Help offers affordable online therapy. What’s more, it can match LGBTQIA+ clients with therapists who have been trained to specialize in their unique needs. If your therapist doesn’t feel like the best fit, it’s free to switch providers at any time, which can help ensure that you get the care you desire.

The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project provides abundant mental health resources for LGBTQIA+ individuals. In addition to 24/7 counseling services available via call, text, or chat, The Trevor Project hosts a thriving online community that can provide support and encouragement. You can also explore a robust learning center featuring topics like gender identity, sexual orientation, and mental health.

Professional Obstacles

Unfortunately, the struggles of discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community do not end when you graduate from college. Quite the contrary, according to The Center for American Progress, in their study, half of LGBTQIA+ adults reported experiencing workplace discrimination within the past year. Additionally, almost four out of five respondents said they took action to avoid dealing with discrimination based on their sexual identity or orientation. Also, over half of the respondents reported experiencing mental health-related side effects and felt less safe due to exposure to LGBTQIA+ debates about law and policy changes affecting the community.

If you’re driven to help marginalized populations overcome these professional obstacles, the following degree is one to consider.

Online Master’s Program

University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law offers an online Master of Studies in Law (MSL) program that can empower LGBTQIA+ students to become effective advocates and prevent workplace and other forms of discrimination. This 100% remote program allows non-lawyers to better understand complex legal matters affecting the community. USC has a Campus Pride Index Score of 4 out of 5 stars, making it a very LGBTQIA+-friendly institution. The school also has an LGBTQ+ Student Center to provide community members with counseling services, weekly programs and events, and volunteer opportunities.

This 21-credit program has two required courses: Introduction to the U.S. Legal System and Legal Research. The rest of the credits are divided between your choice of electives; the ones you choose should align with your degree goals. You’ll also be able to select 12-credit certificates in different specialties at no additional cost, including:

  • Business Law
  • Compliance
  • Entertainment Law and Industry
  • Financial Compliance
  • Health Care Compliance
  • Human Resources and Law Compliance
  • Privacy Law and Cyber Security

Tuition for one academic year of the MSL program is $62,076, but students receive automatic consideration for USC Gould’s merit-based scholarships to help lower costs.

Related Careers

Earning an MSL can enable professionals to pursue various career paths, like:

  • LGBTQIA+ lobbyist
  • Contracts and grants officer
  • Employee relations professional
  • Human resources representative
  • HR consultants/consulting
  • Business manager
  • Managing director
  • Management consultant
  • Courtroom clerk
  • Government official
  • Paralegal
  • Healthcare practitioner
  • Legal assistant

If you are already working in a different field, earning an MSL can enable you to change the course of your career through an enhanced arsenal of legal knowledge. For instance, you can apply to work directly with lawyers and other legal professionals or move to departments that deal with compliance, consulting, etc. This will enable you to advocate for the community more easily.

Additional Resources

Legal challenges may be an unfortunate part of some LGBTQIA+ community members’ professional experience. Nevertheless, overcoming them is entirely possible with support from the proper resources. Here are two of the most prominent ones.

The LGBTQ+ Bar

If you or someone in your social/professional circle is experiencing discrimination due to being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, the LGBTQ+ Bar is a robust resource. It helps provide affordable, competent representation to community members while offering guidance on encouraging inclusivity in legal practices and links to helpful information.

National Association for Law Placement (NALP)

NALP offers various resources specific to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. You can find links to professional legal organizations, student-focused resources, rights organizations, and Canadian organizations.

Social Ostracization

One pervasive type of discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community is social ostracization. Research from The Trevor Project reveals the sheer power of connection, illustrating that social acceptance greatly contributes to mental health. According to their study, students with high familial social support reported less than half the number of suicide attempts as those with low or moderate social support. Those who attend LGBTQIA+-friendly schools also had fewer suicide attempts, and those who live in LGBTQIA+-friendly communities reported significantly lower attempted suicide rates than those who do not.

If fighting against the social isolation and loneliness encountered by marginalized groups interests you professionally, here’s a master’s degree option you may want to pursue.

Hybrid Master’s Program

University at Albany offers an advanced online Certificate of Graduate Study in Global Gender Advocacy that can be earned as a standalone credential, with the option to apply the certificate credits toward the school’s on-campus Master of Arts in Women’s, Gender Sexuality Studies program. The certificate program is developed specifically for students who seek to expand their knowledge of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies with cultural competencies across racial, ethnic, and national differences.

To earn their online graduate certificate, students must earn 9-12 credits by passing three courses from the following list:

  • Situated Sexualities and Transnational Activism
  • Gender, Development, and Feminist Economics
  • Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics in the Asian Diaspora
  • Feminist Thought and Public Policy
  • Environmental Justice: Racism, Classism, Sexism
  • Transformative Storytelling for Social Change
  • Black Diasporas, Feminisms, and Sexual Politics
  • Digital Cultures, Global Circuits, and Feminist Futures

The cost per credit for the online program depends on whether or not you are a New York resident; for non-residents, the price is $565/credit, while it is $471/credit for NY residents. Students who enroll in the Master of Arts in Women’s, Gender Sexuality Studies program can also earn their Juris Doctor (JD) as part of their master’s program.

Related Careers

The global gender advocacy graduate certificate program prepares you for careers that fight for social inclusion, such as:

  • Social Work
  • Counseling
  • Community organizing
  • Nonprofit and NGO leadership and advocacy
  • Teaching and Education
  • Law
  • International relations

Students who choose to pursue a Master of Arts in Women’s, Gender Sexuality Studies after earning their graduate certificate are positioned for advanced degree programs and law careers, social welfare, public administration, teaching, and public health. Common alumni employers include LBGTQIA+ community centers, counseling centers, violence survivor support organizations, rape crisis centers, public health clinics, and women’s shelters.

Additional Resources

Experiencing social ostracism can be a major barrier to obtaining your master’s degree or entering your chosen career path. Building a strong support system and utilizing available resources can help LGBTQIA+ individuals feel seen, heard, and included. If you’re searching for options to help counteract loneliness and isolation due to your sexual identity, here are two suggestions.

CenterLink

CenterLink is a resource that enables LGBTQIA+ students to locate community centers that cater to their needs. This can be an excellent resource for those looking to combat isolation and find more resources to support their college careers.

LGBT National Help Center/Hotline

The LGBT National Help Center/Hotline is operated by those who identify as members of the community. They offer online peer support chat, dedicated chat rooms for specific age groups, and book, film, and online media lists to help you learn more about your journey.

Interview with An Educational Expert in Diversity

Cheryl L. Bedford

Cheryl L. Bedford is an educator, producer, activist, and the founder of the non-profit organization Women of Color Unite. She is also the former Chair of Diversity Development at the New York Film Academy – Los Angeles Branch. Below, she offers insights into how graduate students can encourage inclusivity of LGBTQIA+ voices and reduce discrimination, bullying, and harassment.

Are there things LGBTQIA+ students should look out for/be aware of when determining the best school to pursue their master’s degree online?

My best advice is to make sure the school you are applying to already has a history of social justice and advocacy policies and programs, as well as strong alumni associations and affiliations. I would also research student unions, support, mentorship, internships, and programs serving the LGBTQIA+ community.

How can LGBTQIA+ students navigate the application process for online master’s programs while ensuring their identity and experiences are valued and respected?

Be authentic. Don’t try to fit into the school; make sure the school is a fit for you.

How can students find LGBTQIA+ mentors or advisors who can provide guidance and support throughout their online master’s studies?

Research alumni groups. I suggest reaching out on LinkedIn to former students and leaders of student unions to find out about their experiences. Ask school advisors what plans they currently have and what programs and support services are for the future.

Another important factor is what the process is if a student, teacher, professor, or admin says or does something harmful toward LGBTQIA+ students. Who do the students report to? What happens? Is there an investigation? It’s important to know how the school combats anti-LGBTQIA+ language and actions.

What steps can students take to ensure their research or work in graduate school addresses and supports the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community?

Having taught at a film school, I would constantly remind my students to tell their stories in their way. White male, cis-abled body supremacy has taught us to assimilate, and what this does is quiet our voices. Be loud and be proud!

How can students advocate for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and representation within their graduate program and the broader academic community?

Find those already doing the work. Working in DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] in Hollywood, everything has been done before. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, I have to do it better, yet I always find and align myself with those doing the same work. Don’t think you are alone. The wonderful aspect of social media is that you can find those worldwide supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, folks who have been in the trenches for decades.

Also, let me just say worldwide studies and stats already exist in support of most social justice causes. There are studies from the National Institutes of Health as well. It has already been done. At Women of Color Unite, everything we do is based on studies and stats. We use these studies to guide us and make sure we do no harm. And the best part, when people get too emotional, cold facts are the easiest way to cut through.

Are there any additional challenges or considerations that LGBTQIA+ graduate students might face, specifically related to career development and job prospects?

I know it seems like we are going backward on the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as other communities that have been pushed to the margins. But there are so many groups and non-profits doing the work. At Women of Color Unite, we have part of our group specifically for new graduates. They ask for help and advice, and the members gladly offer it. Find your tribe.

My mentor Bill Duke used to tell me that sometimes you need a bigger stick, which was his. What he meant was that I didn’t have to fight the fight alone. Every now and then, it takes someone with more experience to help you navigate your career path.