LGBTQ+ youth in Colorado need better support. Here’s what schools and communities can do. 

Written by: Lauren Hecht
Date Posted: June 8, 2023

Colorado has some of the most robust LGBTQ+ protections of any state in the West. However, Colorado schools were not considered safe for most LGBTQ+ secondary school students as recently as the 2020-21 school year, according to student survey data from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2021 National School Climate Survey (NSCS). 

Legislators in states across the country have put forward a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills this year, including laws censoring school curriculum and restricting the rights and personhood of transgender students. Even states that have not advanced such bills – including Colorado, with its strong rights-affirming and antidiscrimination laws – are proving vulnerable to a culture that is increasingly hostile to LGBTQ+ people. The GLSEN survey found that LGBTQ+ youth in states led by both Democratic majorities and Republican majorities continue to face higher rates of victimization and discrimination in U.S. schools than other young people.  

Between 2019 and 2021, the percentage of Colorado students who experienced homophobic remarks increased by 367% – from 15% to 55%. The percentage of Colorado students who experienced transphobic remarks also increased substantially – from 29% to 79% (a 245% increase). Many LGBTQ+ students in Colorado also reported exposure to discriminatory policies or practices at their school, with more than half (55%) experiencing at least one form of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in a school setting – ranging from restriction of LGBTQ+ expression to widespread forms of gender-based discrimination. 

Colorado ranks highly among states when considering supportive laws, with policies about the incorporation of LGBTQ+ school curriculum and the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation on the books. The clear persistence of unhealthy school climates for LGBTQ+ students in Colorado puts in stark relief the dire situation students are facing in states with more limited protections or restrictive laws.  

The impacts of the 400+ policies introduced across the country seeking to strip protections from LGBTQ+ youth are not isolated to the communities they are introduced in – they are amounting to visible harms for LGBTQ+ youth nationwide. In its 2023 survey of LGBTQ+ youth across the country, the Trevor Project found that nearly one in three LGBTQ+ young people said their mental health was poor most of the time or always due to anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation. The Trevor Project’s 2022 report also found that nearly half (45%) of LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-17 considered suicide last year, in comparison to approximately 19% of high school students overall.  

Making a difference for LGBTQ+ youth 

When schools do not feel safe, most students do not have the option to leave them without facing repercussions. To prevent kids from becoming stuck in hostile climates, even states like Colorado with strong statutory records must reevaluate and invest in practices and resources that have proven to be protective factors for LGBTQ+ students.  

Among the leading protective factors capable of uplifting LGBTQ+ youth are ensuring that students have strong in-school relationships, both with their peers and school staff. LGBTQ+ youth with access to affirming homes, schools, community events, and online spaces show lower rates of attempting suicide compared to those who did not. Other proven protective factors include the accessibility of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools, more inclusive school resources and curriculums, guidelines specifically supporting transgender and nonbinary students, and the implementation of comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policies in school settings. In many communities, including in Colorado, there are youth-led projects focused on improving school climate and school relationships – pointing to the deep value of youth inclusion and agency in best developing and implementing the protective factors intended to support them.  

Poor implementation and oversight, as well as local political pressure, often hamper the positive intentions of protective policies. Regardless of what state policies are in place, individual school climates can play a large role in the continued harm – or protection – of LGBTQ+ youth. Colorado youth have been indescribably resilient in the face of a global pandemic, growing political division, and more widespread rhetoric rooted in racism, homophobia, and transphobia. Legislators, school leaders, and advocates must not take the resiliency of our youth for granted – and this starts with the development of better school-level support for queer and transgender youth. 

In Colorado, the School Climate Coalition is tasked with just that. It was formed in 2021 to support and advance the creation of safe, welcoming, and inclusive school environments for all Colorado students – especially for those facing discrimination and structural barriers to success. The coalition is currently working on a new model to center youth leadership through collaborative policy formation with existing statewide policy organizations. Learn more about the School Climate Coalition by contacting our Senior Policy Analyst, Megan Ives, at 

To read more, explore The74’s recent analysis of U.S. school climate, the Trevor Project’s 2023 national survey, and GLSEN’s state research snapshots 

The Colorado Children’s Campaign also recently signed on to a letter alongside 117 other organizations from across the country calling for the full inclusion, protection, and celebration of transgender, nonbinary, and intersex youth at the federal level, through access to extracurricular activities such as athletics, school facilities, and safe, inclusive school environments and curriculum. Read the letter here.

Lauren Hecht

About Lauren Hecht

Lauren Hecht is the Digital Communications and Policy Associate for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. She is a co-editor of KidsFlash and the coordinator of our social media platforms and website. She provides strategic policy, advocacy, and development support to the organization through digital and print communications, multimedia campaigns, community outreach, and engagement efforts. Lauren graduated from Colorado College with a degree in Political Science and minors in Latin American Studies and Art Studio.