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Ayla Rand didn’t feel comfortable telling her family she’s gay until she’d found support at Warren Wilson College.

“Seeing successful, queer people has encouraged me to come out to my family,” Rand, a junior from Newton, said. Such acceptance on campus is a reason why the website eCollegeFinder has named Warren Wilson as the most lesbian-, gay-, bisexual-, transgender- and questioning-friendly college or university in North Carolina. The website states it is “dedicated to inspiring and informing college students with comprehensive online tools and information.”

“What makes Warren Wilson unique is its inclusiveness, which addresses the spectrum of (LGBTQ), while other colleges may still be caught up trying to accept lesbian and gay students,” said Mike Simmons of eCollegeFinder. “Not all colleges have an Asexuality Awareness week, which shows the initiative to educate and show more identities than just the two commonly addressed.”

Grindell, who identifies herself as bisexual, serves on the college’s orientation crew. Part of the work she’s taken on is how to make LGBTQ students feel accepted on campus and how to make other students accepting of them. “Conversations about different parts of your identity are welcome here. Having that discussion as part of the first (days) here sets the tone.”

eCollegeFinder credits Warren Wilson College’s Center for Gender and Relationships with bringing in “numerous LGBT activists” and creating an open dialogue regarding transgender issues along with asexuality and bisexuality.

In the last year, Warren Wilson College played host to LGBTQ activists, including Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, who discussed issues faced by LGBTQ communities in developing countries.

Following the Supreme Court’s most recent decision to declare marriage for same-sex couples legal in all 50 states, Paula Garrett, the college’s vice president for academic affairs and dean who writes about gay rights for the Huffington Post, was a sought-after media expert.

“Warren Wilson College strives to create a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for everyone,” said Jeannine Heynes, the Center for Gender and Relationships director. The center’s mission is to build and sustain healthy relationships within the college community by offering education, advocacy and resources within the LGBTQ community and in the areas of sexual assault and relationship violence prevention, gender equity and intersectionality, as well as sexual health and education.

Warren Wilson College earned the recognition based on the 2015 Princeton Review’s “The Best 379 Colleges” list, which ranked the Swannanoa campus at No. 5 for the “Most LGBT-Friendly” colleges.

Warren Wilson’s being small may also contribute to how accepting it is, said Grindell, originally from Kings Mountain.

“You know everyone, if not by name then certainly by their face,” she said. “ When you live in a place where you know people that well, it’s hard not to feel supported.”

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