When Elon University freshman Grace Luebbe applied for housing this past spring, she had one request.

“Please, please, please, give me a safe environment,” Luebbe said.

For the first time this year, students could opt into Elon’s new gender inclusive housing program on the general housing form. As a transgender woman, Luebbe was excited to opt into gender inclusive housing on the freshman housing form. Students were given the option to answer if they were interested in living in gender inclusive housing. If they indicated yes, they were given a couple additional questions. 

Twelve percent of the class of 2027 identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ communities — the largest portion of a class at Elon to date, according to the class of 2027 admissions profile. Luebbe said she chose Elon in part because the university is tied for highest rated university in the south on Campus Pride Index, a benchmarking tool created by national nonprofit Campus Pride regarding safe and inclusive campus initiatives and policies for LGBTQ+ students, staff and faculty. Before she even stepped on campus as a student this fall, Luebbe said she felt welcomed and included.

“You can't just make the gender inclusive housing, you have to actually put in effort for that to be a thing,” Luebbe said. “So it tells me that you actually put effort into helping me stay safe.”

According to Gender and LGBTQIA Center Director Luis Garay, gender inclusive housing previously existed as a process, but it wasn’t easily accessible to students.

“There was nothing really visible about this process,” Garay said. “It kind of almost felt like a backdoor. You only knew to ask for it if you kind of had a semblance of, ‘This is possible.’” 

This year is a pilot for gender inclusive housing, but Garay said that the program will continue following this year and learn from how this first year goes. According to Garay, 10 to 15 students opted into the program.

Another option for LGBTQ+ students is the Gender and Sexuality Living Learning Community. This year, the LLC expanded to two full floors. Garay said there are 48 or 49 rooms designated for the LLC.

In addition to opting into gender inclusive housing, Luebbe applied for the LLC and was placed in a room in one of the LLC’s two halls. Located in Colonnades, the LLC consists of mostly pods of single rooms. 

Luebbe said though she would have been happy to live with a roommate, she’s grateful to be in the LLC.

“I was prepared if I didn't get in to go through a heavy vetting process of being incredibly upfront with whoever I get paired with,” Luebbe said. “‘Hey, I am trans … you have to be comfortable with this. I will not be offended. Say no now so we can just keep on going.’”

Luebbe attended a boarding school for high school, where she lived in a room with a cisgender man. Luebbe said she spent the past four years in housing that didn’t feel true to her because the process of getting moved to the girls housing was not feasible for her.

“Just living with another man, especially one that was not the most accepting, was a really uncomfortable experience,” Luebbe said.

Gender and sexuality equity in housing is critical to GLC graduate apprentice and LLC co-adviser Vanessa Truelove. Truelove has experience working in housing at another college and said having these options is important for student success.

“If you can't feel safe in your housing, then you're not going to thrive at all,” Truelove said.

Truelove said this all the more important in North Carolina, where the state legislature has recently passed multiple bills infringing on the rights of gender-nonconforming college students. 

On Aug. 16, the state’s General Assembly voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of three bills targeting LGBTQ+ communities. The bills — HB574, HB808 and SB49 — restrict transgender students from participating in school sports, gender affirming healthcare for minors and classroom instruction surrounding gender identity and sexuality. The state also banned gender neutral housing of any kind in the state’s public University of North Carolina system in 2013. 

Freshman Sabrina Rauch, who lives in Florida, just moved into the Gender and Sexuality LLC and said it’s frustrating to see anti-LGBTQ+ laws continue to pass around the country. Florida has passed significant legislation limiting LGBTQ+ representation in education, most notably with the Parental Rights in Education, or “Don’t Say Gay,” bill. 

“It's definitely upsetting because it's like you move to one place to try to get away from what's already happening down there,” Rauch said. “But as long as the school is trying to fight against it — because there's only so much you can do against the law — but they're still making movements to be inclusive at Elon.”

With both gender inclusive housing and the Gender and Sexuality LLC as options, Luebbe said she felt like a weight was lifted as she got ready to start college.

“It just means a lot to me that I don't have to worry about housing while I'm trying to prepare for school,” Luebbe said.