LGBT identification has its pros and cons

by Heather Rushall

As if applying to college isn’t complicated enough already, California is now considering the possibility of adding a new question to its college applications regarding sexual orientation. If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you may now be able to identify yourself as such while applying for your secondary education.

But what does this really mean for college applicants? Could the new question make it less difficult for members of the gay community to get into college? Perhaps. But by the same token, it could be a strike against applicants who prefer to date outside their own gender, right? Not necessarily.

In a nutshell, California college systems would use the information to rate statistics of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students that could not be tracked and ensure the needs of those students are being adequately met.

Unknown to many, there is a law in California that recommends (not requires) a gauge of the size of LGBT communities on the UC, California State and community college campuses. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law last year, and this new study appears to be a direct response to his suggestion.

While this new request for information has received its share of support and criticism already, members from both the heterosexual and homosexual communities so far appear to support it.

“We think this is an awesome idea, it’s hugely important that the number and existence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students be made visible,” Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Alaska.

In what seems like a never-ending battle for equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgendered persons, this may very well be a step in the right direction. But what are the risks?

The most obvious and probably most-discussed danger is the possibility that a breach in what are supposed to be confidential files could risk the privacy — and perhaps safety — of those students who mark “gay” on their applications. In September 2010, Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers college freshman, committed suicide after his roommate and a friend streamed a live video of him with another male on the Internet. And such stories happen all the time; bullying is not just innocent play in the schoolyard anymore.

On the brighter side, the orientation question that may appear both on the application itself as well as enrollment forms is meant to assist colleges in tracking whether or not they are providing enough additional services to their LGBT students and ensuring that community does not go unnoticed.

Kendell added, “Knowing that your campus has 3,000 that identify themselves as LGBT rather than just the 50 or so who make themselves known is a huge factor in how isolated such students feel. Plus it makes a difference in the funding and support that such centers will get.”

But what if you don’t know yet? Plenty of 17 and 18-year-old college applicants may still be exploring their sexuality and remain undecided for a portion — if not all — of their time spent in college. According to the Los Angeles Times, the sexual preference question would be voluntary, allowing undecided students to opt out completely.

California college systems are not the first to attempt to implement such a change. Elmhurst College in Illinois began asking about sexual orientation on its applications last fall. The private college reported 85 percent of applicants chose to answer the question, and 3 percent of those who answered reported being gay, bisexual or transgendered.

At this time, questions regarding sexual orientation on California college applications are only being considered, but California colleges are taking all possibilities into account before making a decision. Dianne Klein, UC spokeswoman, said, “There is no rule, nothing mandatory, and no time frame; this is just being studied.”