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College pride guide

Charlotte man's Web site gauges universities' support of gay and lesbian students

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When Ian Palmquist was figuring out which college he wanted to attend, he relied mostly on word-of-mouth to determine if a campus was friendly to gay and lesbian students.

"I definitely wanted to go to an institution where I felt like I would be accepted," says Palmquist, executive director of Equality N.C.

That was back in the mid-'90s. Today all but one public N.C. school -- Elizabeth City State University -- have anti-discrimination policies. And lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students have several guidebooks devoted to the subject, including one written by Shane Windmeyer of Charlotte.

But no one had tried a large-scale campaign to assign weighted rankings to schools based on their policies regarding LGBT students. Windmeyer, however, wants to remedy that.

Windmeyer, the executive director of Campus Pride, a national group devoted to supporting LGBT college students, has launched CampusClimateIndex.org. The Index's researchers have assigned weighted scores to 145 schools, based on factors including LGBT policies, student life, academics and recruitment and retention efforts.

Colleges can fill out the Index's survey, view their results, and decide whether to have them posted on the Web site. The intent? Windmeyer says it's two-fold: To help colleges assess and improve their policies and to aid students in finding gay-friendly schools. "For the first time ever, it allows colleges and universities to actually recruit LGBT students," says Windmeyer.

So far, only three schools in North Carolina are on the Web site: Appalachian State University, UNC--Greensboro and N.C. State University. (A spokeswoman for UNC--Charlotte says the school just hired an assistant director for sexual gender diversity -- a newly created position.)

Equality N.C. is working to get more schools in North Carolina to participate in the Index. "It may take some time for people to start having these conversations and getting some answers," Palmquist says.

But he has heard from faculty at Appalachian who want to improve the school's score by getting domestic partner benefits for university employees. That "would be a challenge," Palmquist says, "They'll have to go through state government to make that happen."

Students need more than word-of-mouth when choosing a school, he says. "It's very important that we have a way of evaluating how universities are addressing the needs of LGBT students -- and helping them find ways to improve the lives of LGBT students on their campus."

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