The Impact of Anti-DEI Legislation on LGBTQ+ Faculty in Higher Education

May 2024

Using data gathered from 84 LGBTQ+ faculty in higher education, this study examines how the anti-DEI and anti-LGBTQ+ climate has affected their teaching and lives outside the classroom.

Anti-DEI laws have negatively impacted the LGBTQ+ faculty's teaching, research, and interactions with students.
Nearly three-quarters of the LGBTQ+ faculty said the current environment has taken a toll on their mental health.
Half of the LGBTQ+ college faculty have considered moving to another state because of anti-DEI laws.
Data Points
of the LGBTQ+ faculty surveyed omitted topics previously covered in response to anti-DEI laws
decreased the amount of classroom discussion
of LGBTQ+ faculty reported less willingness of participants to participate in their research
reported having students leave their research labs
of the LGBTQ+ faculty surveyed reported institutional requests for their DEI-related activities
of LGBTQ+ faculty reported increases in negative teaching evaluations
reported student threats to report them
of the LGBTQ+ faculty surveyed said the current environment has taken a toll on their mental health
said it has affected their physical health
of the LGBTQ+ faculty surveyed have explored moving to another state
have actively taken steps to do so
of the LGBTQ+ faculty surveyed have considered leaving academia
of LGBTQ+ faculty reported declines in course enrollment

Executive Summary

Teaching and research on LGBTQ+ and diversity-related issues has become increasingly challenging amidst the anti-diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) legislation that is advancing across the U.S. As of spring 2024, nine states have passed anti-DEI legislation related to higher education. Currently, at least 20 other states are considering such legislation. Many of the same states are seeing a rapid expansion of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation as well, including legislation restricting gender-affirming care for youth, prohibiting discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in secondary education, and allowing health care providers to discriminate based on moral or religious convictions.

The current mixed-method survey of 84 LGBTQ+ faculty, most of whom work at public universities, explores how they are navigating this increasingly anti-DEI and anti-LGBTQ+ climate. It examines (a) changes in their teaching and research, (b) impacts beyond the classroom, (c) their emotional health, physical health, and coping, and (d) their desire and intention to move.

Overall, these faculty members report that the anti-DEI environment has rapidly impacted their teaching, research, and health. Many faculty report this environment has negatively impacted what they teach, how they interact with students, their research on LGBTQ+-related issues, and how out they are on campus and in their communities. Over one in ten have already faced requests for their DEI-related activities from campus administrators, declines in course enrollment, and threats from students to report them for violating anti-DEI laws. Some faculty members have already experienced harassment on campus because of their LGBTQ+ status and views on social issues, and one in five are scared they will be subject to this type of harassment. They report similar or even greater levels of harassment from their neighbors and of their children at school.

Almost three-fourths of these faculty members feel that the current environment is negatively impacting their mental health, and over one-fourth feel that it is impacting their physical health. Half are exploring moving to another state, and 20% have actively taken steps to do so. A third are considering leaving academia altogether. Even among those in states without any specific anti-DEI legislation, many of the LGBTQ+ faculty described how the national climate has emotionally impacted them and expressed concerns about a backlash to their teaching and research. Yet, despite these challenges, many LGBTQ+ faculty are finding support in their families and communities, and over a third have become inspired to be more active in advocacy on campus.

While these anti-DEI laws are still relatively new, these findings from the initial days of their implementation suggest that the laws will result in significantly fewer out LGBTQ+ faculty members, less course coverage of LGBTQ+ topics, and a reduction in academic research on LGBTQ+ issues. Unchecked, ultimately, this could mean that in states with some of the most difficult environments for LGBTQ+ people, there could be less research to address LGBTQ+ health and income disparities and inform public policies and a generation of students with less exposure to LGBTQ+ issues and faculty mentorship and support.

Key Findings

Teaching and Research

All participants (100%) reported that LGBTQ+ issues/topics were a component of their research and/or teaching. In addition, most participants’ research and/or teaching involved additional topics and issues that were impacted by DEI-related legislation, including race and racism (95%), sexuality studies (90%), gender studies (89%), and transgender issues (87%).

Faculty had made various changes to their teaching in response to legislative threats or realities. Those with lower faculty rank (i.e., lack of tenure) were more likely to make such changes. Faculty sometimes reduced or omitted content or activities (e.g., 7% omitted topics previously covered, 7% decreased the amount of discussion, and 6% omitted readings previously assigned). They also noted greater wariness and caution in how they covered various topics.

Faculty also reported negative impacts on their research, including a decreased willingness of participants and organizations to participate in their research (16%) and students leaving their research labs (5%). They also described other research-related challenges, such as those related to visibility (e.g., they were afraid of drawing attention to their LGBTQ+-related research and risking sanction or censure).

Some faculty had sought to manage the pressures created by passed or proposed legislation by adding—as opposed to subtracting—content to their courses. For example, 32% had added readings, 23% had added new topics (e.g., current events/legislation or context/history needed to understand current events/legislation), and 14% had increased the amount of class discussion in their courses. Some had changed how they taught certain topics, such as providing greater context for what they were teaching and why they were teaching it.

Whereas 17% had become less active in advocacy and activism on campus (e.g., because of burnout, vulnerability, and fear of retaliation), 33% had become more active in advocacy and activism on campus, and 10% had joined their faculty union.

Beyond faculty-initiated changes in response to legislative changes or threats, some participants reported other direct impacts, such as institutional requests for their DEI-related activities, such as emails and minutes (14%), declines in course enrollment (12%), increases in negative teaching evaluations (12%), and student threats to report them (10%).

Participants’ narrative data underscored the varied direct impacts of legislative changes and threats. In particular, many participants emphasized the stress of teaching and doing research in a “chilly” campus climate where they did not necessarily feel supported or “backed” by their institution or even their department. Participants described fear and vigilance surrounding their identities and teaching/research, which were often intermingled. In turn, those who were more vulnerable (e.g., untenured faculty members) described especially heightened fears.

Participants sought to manage worries about visibility, backlash, and censure in a variety of ways, such as by being less “out” in the classroom, decreasing the amount of personal information they shared with students, and not allowing students to record lectures, for example.

Even among those in states without any specific anti-DEI legislation related to higher education, many described how the national climate had shaped their personal and work lives, such that they were “emotionally impacted” and worried about their research or teaching landing them on conservative lists of “radical faculty.”

• Participants described efforts to mitigate the effects of legislation, such as altering the language they use to describe programming and courses or providing greater context and justification for sexuality, gender, and race-related topics in their courses and trainings. Some emphasized their resistance to legislation, noting that they did not intend to change their research or teaching. Notably, faculty who engaged in these types of strategic resistance sometimes noted that they had a lot of privilege (e.g., they were tenured).

Family and Community

Over 60% of respondents who were parents reported at least one negative event or change impacting their children in the past six months. This includes 26% who reported that their children had been bullied, teased, or harassed at school for being LGBTQ+, for having LGBTQ+ parents, or for their own racial, ethnic, or cultural identities; 18% who reported that books (e.g., on LGBTQ+- or race/ethnicity-related topics) had been removed from their children’s school or classroom; and 35% who reported curricular changes, including limiting LGBTQ+ content and discussion at school and promoting abstinence-only messages. In addition, 18% of parent respondents reported that other parents at school were cool or hostile to them.

Almost 40% of participants described their home communities as conservative or very conservative on LGBTQ+ issues. Reporting on the past six months, 5% said that they had experienced harassment or been bothered by neighbors for their sexual orientation/gender identity or expression (SOGIE), political affiliation, or perceived “wokeness,” and 37% said that they were scared of this type of harassment. Some participants described being less “out” in their home communities, noting increased hypervigilance, including scanning behaviors and identity concealment.

About 30% of participants said that their college/university communities were conservative or very conservative on LGBTQ+ issues. Reporting on the past six months, 6% said that they had experienced harassment or being bothered by supervisors or colleagues because of their SOGIE, political affiliation, or perceived “wokeness,” and 20% said that they were scared of this type of harassment.

Well-Being and Coping

Almost three-quarters (74%) of participants said that the recent legislation and shifting climate had impacted their mental health. Such mental health impacts were more likely to be endorsed by those in anti-DEI states and those in states with a poor anti-LGBTQ+ climate. Further, 27% said that legislative shifts had impacted their physical health. Participants detailed the mental toll of constant hypervigilance related to the potential scrutiny of their identities, research, and teaching. They also described how the stress associated with legislative attacks had contributed to health issues, such as poor sleep, high blood pressure, and autoimmune issues.

Participants endorsed a range of ways that they had sought to cope with the stress associated with legislation, including connecting with friends and family (61%), exercising (54%), engaging in advocacy in person (48%), donating to causes or people fighting the legislation (29%), being less “out” (26%), using alcohol or drugs (25%), or participating in a protest against the legislation (21%), among other strategies. They also connected with colleagues within their institution (58%) or outside their institution (52%) for support/strategic help.

Plans to Move or Leave Higher Education

Some participants considered moving out of state (48%) or considered and/or searched for a new job in academia (43%) or outside of academia (36%). A total of 23% of participants had planned or actively took steps to move out of state, 20% had applied for a new job out of state, and 19% had searched for housing in other states.

Over half (52%) said that they would like to move out of their state, with 38% saying that they would “very much” like to move and 14% indicating that they would “somewhat” like to move. Those living in anti-DEI states were more likely to want to move. Fourteen percent said that it was very likely that they would move out of their state in the next two years, while 10% said it was somewhat likely.

Barriers to moving included the challenges associated with getting another academic job (86%), the hassle of moving (44%), the cost of living in their current state (39%), love for their home (38%) and community (33%), family caregiving responsibilities (27%), family living nearby (26%), the weather (25%), and inability to afford moving (18%).


It is an increasingly difficult time to be LGBTQ+, especially in certain areas of the United States. It is, in turn, a challenging time to be LGBTQ+ in higher education, particularly in states and regions with more anti-LGBTQ+ legislative climates. Prior work has shown that LGBTQ+ faculty may struggle with whether and how to be out with students and colleagues, particularly in more hostile contexts (Bilimoria & Stewart, 2009; Prock et al., 2019). Further, the academic and social climates of certain programs and departments may be more welcoming to LGBTQ+ faculty (e.g., humanities, social sciences) than others (e.g., sciences, engineering; Bilimoria & Stewart, 2009; Boustani & Taylor, 2020; Patridge et al., 2014; Reggiani et al., 2024). LGBTQ+ faculty may experience minority stress in the form of anticipating and managing discriminatory events and rejection by students, faculty, and staff, requiring ongoing monitoring of—and adaptation to—their environments and interpersonal interactions (Dozier, 2015). In turn, LGBTQ+ faculty often balance their desires for openness, authenticity, and connectedness with the real fears associated with institutional censure, resistance, and long-term career consequences (e.g., failure to get tenure; Nielsen & Alderson, 2014). LGBTQ+ faculty may experience hypervigilance, isolation, invisibility, hypervisibility, dismissal, tokenism, and lack of institutional support, all of which are taxing (Beagan et al., 2021; Misawa, 2015; Veldhuis, 2022).

It is also an increasingly difficult time to teach LGBTQ+ and other diversity-related issues in higher education. Teaching about LGBTQ+ issues is challenging insomuch as such topics are often politicized, heightening student—and possibly institutional and administrator—pushback and resistance (Wimberly, 2015). Doing research on LGBTQ+ topics is also difficult, given the politicized nature of such issues, the associated challenges with funding such research, and the difficulty of recruiting individuals who feel safe participating in such research (Veldhuis, 2022; Wimberly, 2015).

Teaching and research on LGBTQ+ and diversity-related issues has become increasingly challenging amidst the anti-diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) legislation that is advancing across the U.S. In 2023-2024, many states have introduced and/or passed bills restricting or banning DEI initiatives and/ or teaching in public colleges. As of February 2024, nine states—Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah—have passed anti-DEI legislation related to higher education. This legislation varies in scope: Some prohibit public universities from requiring employees to participate in DEI or bias programming or training. Others ban spending on programs for DEI, impose limits on allowed courses and majors, and/or prohibit teaching and training on “divisive concepts.” Still, other legislation disallows the creation of DEI offices or DEI-related hiring. In other states (20+ as of March 2024), such legislation has been proposed but has not yet been passed (Best Colleges, 2024; National Education Association, 2024). Furthermore, in June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated race-based affirmative action in higher education. In some states (e.g., Georgia), public colleges and universities have put an end to required statements in hiring and prohibit requiring such statements as part of employee training (Spitalniak, 2023). Thus, an anti-DEI climate is increasingly pervasive in higher education. The impending threat of anti-DEI legislation and the challenging climate that often surrounds it inevitably impacts faculty—and students—in higher education, particularly those who are marginalized based on racial/ethnic or SOGIE status (National Education Association, 2024).

Some states have introduced and/or passed not just one but multiple bills targeting DEI in higher education. In Florida, for example, under House Bill 999 and Senate Bill 266, public institutions are now prohibited from funding the promotion, support, or maintenance of DEI programs and from offering any general education course that “teaches identity politics, or is based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States.” And, under House Bill 931 and its companion Senate Bill 958, Florida’s public institutions are prohibited from giving preferential consideration for employment, admission, or promotion to people who show support for “any ideology or movement that promotes the differential treatment of a person or a group of persons based on race or ethnicity, including an initiative or a formulation of diversity, equity, and inclusion” (Best Colleges, 2024). These bills give a sense of the “flavor” of these types of anti-DEI initiatives.

Many states, including the majority of states that have introduced or passed anti-DEI legislation, are seeing a rapid expansion of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation as well. Many of these states, for example, have passed legislation restricting gender-affirming care for youth, prohibiting discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in secondary education, and allowing health care providers to discriminate based on moral or religious convictions (Movement Advancement Project, 2024). Thus, an increasing number of states are characterized by anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-DEI climate more generally. At a national level, the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June of 2022, alongside the ban on affirmative action in June of 2023, has had ripple effects on national, state, and community climate.


The data presented in this report come from a larger project on the experiences of faculty in higher education in 2023-2024 amidst record legislation pertaining to DEI in higher education and LGBTQ+ rights. Specifically, this report focuses on the 84 participants in this larger study who are LGBTQ+. All 84 faculty teach about and/or do research on LGBTQ+-related topics, and most also teach about/research other topics currently subject to increasing scrutiny and regulation (e.g., race/racism; sexuality). Two-thirds live in states that have introduced and/or passed legislation regulating DEI activities and teaching in higher education. Of interest were their experiences living, teaching, and doing research in the current climate, as well as the specific impacts of national and state legislation and climate.

During a four-month period (late October 2023 – late February 2024), individuals teaching in higher education—especially those in states that had proposed or passed legislation impacting DEI-related activities (teaching, research) in higher education—were invited to complete an anonymous survey hosted by the online platform Qualtrics. Four faculty members—two in sociology, two in psychology, three in Florida, and one in Massachusetts—disseminated information about the survey to colleagues, acquaintances, and specialized DEI-related listservs. The researchers provided context for the study, suggested caution in how/to whom the survey was disseminated, and invited individuals to complete the survey, with the option of winning one of 5 $50 gift certificates. They were also asked to help spread the word to other faculty. The Clark University Human Subjects Internal Review Board (IRB) approved the study.

The current study used mixed methods to analyze the data. Basic descriptive statistics and a series of logistic regressions were used to analyze the quantitative data, and thematic analysis was applied to the qualitative data. With regard to logistic regressions, we assessed whether legislative context (introduced or passed anti-DEI legislation; presence of anti-LGBTQ+ climate as indexed by poor or very poor state climate (as measured by the Movement Advancement Project’s LGBTQ+ policy tally), institutional context (public university), and individual indices of vulnerability (untenured/low rank; trans or nonbinary identity) impacted a variety of dichotomous outcomes: namely, any changes made to teaching overall (including, separately, teaching practices removed, and teaching practices added); presence of mental health challenges due to legislation; and desire to move (very or somewhat). Regression models were run with anti-DEI legislation and anti-LGBTQ+ climate in the model and each one alone since these two dimensions are overlapping but distinct.

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The Impact of Anti-DEI Legislation on LGBTQ+ Faculty in Higher Education