The University of Iowa will reportedly begin asking applicants, in an optional section of the application for undergraduate admission, “Do you identify with the LGBTQ Community?” This information comes from a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Clearly, the change in the application is intended to convey to prospective students that the Big Ten university is accepting and welcoming of gay or transgender students. (LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning, I believe, although the Q may stand for Queer. I’m not sure, and sources differ. Furthermore, I hope every student at a university has a curious or questioning spirit. How else are we supposed to learn anything?) The university says it will use the information to provide gay students with more appropriate information about campus groups they might want to join or check out.
But the move could backfire. Some information collected by universities is subject to public inspection requests, and about one-fourth of homosexual teenagers say their families decided to cast them out once they declared their sexual orientation. Here, we quote from an issue brief by Raymond Arthur Smith on a server at Columbia University:
Unfortunately, the Latino homosexual has become the “black sheep” in the Latino community and has resorted to secret lives just to keep their families together and strong, as oppose[d] to being put in exile from their loved ones. Some men have gone even so far as to have marriages with women and have children just so that their family name may carry on. Many of these men will secretly go to parks, …
Although this report applies mainly to gay Latino men, the family secrets have been described in other research literature. When gay men let their families know they’re gay, bad things have a higher probability of happening. And that’s wrong in and of itself, but the University of Iowa should not be an agent of revealing a teenager’s homosexuality. Don’t they know parents review these applications for their sons and daughters?!
Elmhurst College in Illinois is the only other college, so far, that asks a question like this on an entrance application, but Elmhurst is a small, private college. The University of Iowa receives about 29,000 applications per year, and about 2,100 students actually enroll at the school.
The question, if asked at all, should not be answered
I advise applicants not to answer this question on the application. The university should provide all students with information about campus organizations, without discriminating based on the services those organizations provide. Info about groups that support homosexual students should be presented to students in the same light as those that support a clean environment, for example.
Since it is wrong to screen clubs and organizations and wronger still to keep information from students about potentially useful or helpful organizations on campus, the university simply has no need whatsoever to know what students’ sexual orientation might be.
Furthermore, the university should remove the question from the application altogether. Data being reported to a public, state-supported university could easily fall into evil hands. There’s no telling what might happen at that point.
Finally, the question is poorly worded. I have, for example, “identified with” the LGBT community when I have written about them, but I do not have any interest in knowing about LGBT support groups on campus. I’m perfectly capable of screening my own promotional emails and direct mail pieces, so the university should just stay out of my personal life.
This is why we don’t ask job applicants, on an official application, whether they’re married or single. We might have a support group for single people or something at the workplace, but we should present information about it to all employees, since we have no business asking about their marital status.