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College students reduced to tears after being ‘pressured’ to disclose sexuality on enrolment forms

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  1. Jock S. Trap 6 Sep 2013, 10:58am

    I can see this in both lights.

    It means to be inclusive which I guess is a good thing catering for all.

    However I do question the need to know.

    Perhaps not on the front page for some but seriously what is there to be ashamed of?

    If we hide how do we improve?

    1. Monitoring can be done anonymously.

    2. It’s not a question of hiding, but remember that these are 16/17 year olds. The world can still be a pretty fearful place for young LGBT people, much as things have improved since I was in school.

      1. Thank you! Summed up what I was going to say completely. I had to filling in this form a year ago and a that point the whole idea scared the living daylight out of me! Its not right to force children (yer we are still kids at 16!) to put themselves in a category just so that a college can say look how diverse we are.

  2. In this case, just as one should do with the race question, write underneath, “None of your business”

    1. That’s unhelpful. Monitoring is important to show workforces and establishments like this college that they really do have significant numbers of LGBT pupils. And they can also monitor the levels of LGBT respondents to ensure they’re not, for some reason, repelling LGBT people from ‘joining’ them.

      It’s a way to show strength in numbers -stonewall have some great literature on it. Worth a look on their website.

      1. BlokeToys 6 Sep 2013, 1:42pm

        But IT DOESN’T WORK!

        People do not openly admit things that could be used to attack them or make them a victim. Why should anyone trust that putting your sexuality on an application will not be used to discriminate against you?

        Therefore, plenty of people blatantly lie on these forms because they do not trust the motivations of those asking those questions. This means that the entire process of “gathering data” is void and useless.

        It might be intended to be used in an entirely innocent way, but people have reason not to trust that idea, and the fact that many will lie because of that fear makes the entire notion of asking it to gather information completely pointless.

        The ONLY way this can be done is to not ask the question to begin with, confirm employment/enrollment, and THEN ask after the position has been confirmed. This would make it clear that this information is not being used to gather (or manipulate) statistics, and still allow monitoring for statistical purposes.

        1. BlokeToys 6 Sep 2013, 1:45pm

          Correction – I meant to say that this would show that this information is not being used to discriminate, and can then still be used after successful inclusion of the applicant to gather more accurate data, voluntarily, and with confidence that it’s not being used for nefarious purposes.

        2. Done properly for a job vacancy application form, the peronsal confidential questions will be on a seperate form that is detached by the HR department and not seen by the candidate selectors/interviewers.

          In this instance the college was right to collect the information, but wrong to have those details on the front page.

    2. James Savik 6 Sep 2013, 5:59pm

      I agree. When an official actor, like a college or bureau asks such a question, it’s not unreasonable to tell them where to stick it. You don’t know where that information is going or how it will be used. If you trust the goverenment these days, you are all sorts of stupid.

  3. To be truly “Inclusive” information such as this should not matter or need to be known.

    1. Julian Morrison 6 Sep 2013, 11:29am

      In an ideal world, yes. In the real world, no. First, the haters won’t stop just because the school isn’t collecting info. Second, a failure to collect info can lead to the default assumption “we don’t need to cater for anyone but cis and straight”. Absent active challenging, the privileged viewpoint will be the only viewpoint. As they say in the context of race, colour blind just means you can only see white.

      1. That’s why the question should have been optional, with a notice underneath, or something, stating that; those who choose not to disclose their orientation at this time, won’t be held accountable at a later date if such information comes to light.
        I understand why the college might want to collect the information to show that they’re ‘inclusive’ but there was a massive oversight in how the question might have appeared to LGBT students.

        1. There was a “Prefer not to answer” option.

          No one is being forced to disclose their sexuality.

          I seriously don’t understand the big deal here.

          1. Selecting that answer itself would raise eyebrows.
            If you think about it, what typical straight person would tick that box? Unfortunately not that many straight people would have thought much about it. They wouldn’t have looked at the consequences, being ‘straight’ is something most straight people don’t think twice about. It’s only when you’re not straight, or maybe when you know others who aren’t, you tend to look deeper into things.
            The whole section on orientation should have been optional.

          2. Julian Morrison 6 Sep 2013, 1:34pm

            The big deal is that whichever option you select leaks information about you to any nosy so-and-so who bothers to shoulder surf (except ironically, “straight” which collapses together actually straight people with closeted LGBT).

            The right way to do this would be: give them a separate sheet WITHOUT their name on it (may have a tracking number to avoid cheating, but shuffle the pile before handing them out) which they can tick all that apply inside a curtained booth, fold up like a ballot paper and post into a ballot box.

            My suggested questions would be: Born as? M/F/X/-, living as? M/F/X/-, attracted to M? Y/N/-, attracted to F? Y/N/-, attracted to X? Y/N/-.

            Securely anonymous voting on paper is a solved problem already, and that’s essentially what this should be if they want a more honest tally.

          3. If people want to be closeted then they can tick straight. This really shouldn’t be reducing ANYONE to tears.

            There are no doubt plenty of students who are out and proud and more than happy to declare it on application forms.

            The gay rights movement hasn’t progressed because of those who choose to remain in the closet. It’s progressed because of those who were willing to stand up and be counted.

  4. I don’t see how its anybody else’s business but their own.
    Not everyone is out of the closet, and not everyone is comfortable disclosing that type of information – especially into a climate, where it’s still acceptable in society to hold homophobic views, as we saw in the government and house of lords this year. If it’s acceptable for even people such as them to utter homophobic diatribe, and to be repeated by the Beeb, then the message sent out to the public is that it’s okay for them too.
    If it had been a racial, or perhaps a gender bash-fest, they wouldn’t have gotten away with it.
    The questionnaire’s section on sexual preference should have been optional, and made clear that those who choose to be dishonest (through fear of backlash) wouldn’t have been held accountable, had their true orientation got out at a later date.

  5. Interested to know how you checked this story.
    You did check it yes?

    1. I was thinking the same thing. Rewriting stories from the Barnsley Chronicle doesn’t seem to be the most efficient use of journalists’ time.

  6. Mihangel apYrs 6 Sep 2013, 11:27am

    It’s not a “sexual preference” any more than being blue-eyed is an eye-colour preference.

    When will they (even the well-intentioned), get it right?

    1. Paul Brownsey 6 Sep 2013, 12:33pm

      Yes, it *is* a sexual preference. The question is about the sort of person you prefer to have sex with.

      That you prefer this to that doesn’t mean your preference arises from a choice. I prefer dogs to cats but I never chose to prefer dogs to cats. I just find I go gooey over dogs but not over cats.

      By the way, the student who was quoted as saying the college should not be defining students by their sexuality should think a bit about the meaning of “define”. To ask my address is not to define me by my address, and to ask my sexual preference is not to define me by it. it’s just to ask for a bit of info.

      1. It is usually and rightly referred to as sexual orientation in this day and age the word preference denotes a choice is being made.

      2. The term “preference” makes it sound like you are attracted to the opposite sex, but like the same sex more; in that sense only bi-sexuals have a “sexual preference”

  7. This is a big deal? In Australia, you cannot be admitted to hospital if you don’t want to answer the question of whether you are indigenous Aboriginal, or Torres Starit Islander, or both, or neither.

    If you refuse, YOU ARE DENIED SERVICES.

    I have 1/16 indigenous ancestry…I am appalled that I can have surgery withheld simply because I think it is none of the State Government’s business to label me as Indigenous when I do not identify as such (because to do so negates 15/16s)

    And I am sick to death then of having an Indigenous officer turn up after surgery (even when it was a ruptured appendix, which was life threatening), to say ‘Wassup bro?’

    I have to tell them I’m Jewish and THAT is my primary ethnic identity no matter what some damned state bureaucracy says.

    None of this is about inclusion, it’s labeling and often that labeling is counter to an individual’s wishes.

    And yes, I am fair skinned/haired & blue eyed in a country where Jews weren’t considered white until 25 yrs ago

    1. If that’s not how you identify why don’t you tick neither?

  8. This is difficult – because to examine whether a place is diverse, you need to monitor. If a college has a 1,000 pupils and NONE of them are GBLT then that indicates a problem. We see that already with the fact they ask about ethnicity – a question the students weren’t surprised about in the slightest

    But not everyone is ready to be Out so publicly – I can’t blame the college, it’s one of the problems that comes from the closet and a homophobic society that still encourages so many of us to hide

  9. The college may have had the best intentions, but things are unfortunately not so progressed in the wider UK world for everyone to feel comfortable about officially committing themselves to a statement of sexual identity.

    Additionally, many students arrive at university virgins and it is at university that they only BEGIN to discover what their sexual identity is. So asking the question the week they arrive is pointless. Furthermore, if the atmosphere of a university is not accepting most students who deviate from the heterosexual norm choose to keep their heads down, swot hard, and leave the matter of their sexuality until they’ve entered the world of work.

  10. Jan Bridget 6 Sep 2013, 11:51am

    If the college is just monitoring in isolation then it is questionable whether or not they are just playing the game. If,however, they have support services for LGBT students and they are publicising this, and it is genuine support then that is good.

    But I suspect the former.

    1. To be fair, monitoring it might be part of proving a case as to whether such services may be needed in the first place.

  11. Martyn Butler (@Martyn_Butler) 6 Sep 2013, 11:52am

    ‘pressured’ is hardly the case – Skip the question – Job Done

    1. That what I would have done. Or better, ask the administrator to name who they sleep with and then I would answer. Good for oose, good for gander!

  12. David Bennett 6 Sep 2013, 11:53am

    I guess asking about age might have some relevance. Questions relating to colour, religion or sexual preferences has nothing to do with anyone else.
    Not those marxists at Common Purpose either!

  13. We can’t forget that institutions ask these details in an effort to promote “diversity” and to identify “high risk” groups, which in many cases can be a legal requirement and a genuine effort to improve conditions for these “high risk” people and accomodate them, but the true motives for knowing the information depends on who asks the question…

    The problem with this, though is that the nasty social construct of “the closet” still exists. Everyone knows what “prefer not to say means” actually means, and it’s obvious anyone in the closet would be compelled to check the “straight” box, just like they do everywhere else !

  14. These are basic monitoring questions just like in most employment application packs.

    They serve to monitor success of the various groups but also identify issues that may not be identifiable without them.

    Example a lecturer constantly marks down any LGBT students in their class but never ever says or does anything discriminatory. Well by using the monitoring the trend would be identified and investigated so it works on many levels.

    Its also important to note this practice is supported by all gay rights organisations. In fact for your organisation to even take par in Stonewalls Equality Index of top employers you need to be asking these questions.

    To me this is a regurgitated none story from a local paper with its own slant on the story and far beneath Pinks standards.

  15. I thought standard practice, if you are trying to monitor diversity, is to ask the questions on a separate, voluntary questionnaire. This can be filled in anomynously and is usually returned in a sealed envelope.It usually provides more accurate data as people don’t feel so uncomfortable about completing it.
    This report seems like a case of good intentions, poorly implemented.

  16. These students need to get a grip. Can you imagine a black or a Jewish student crying if asked what ethnicity or religion they are?
    It’s no more or less ‘offensive’ than asking someone’s gender on a form.
    Also, information like this IS relevant, whether it’s in order to best cater for people in certain environments or at the very least in order to help build statistical knowledge of demographics. I mean, it’s not as if they’re asking them if they’re top or bottom.

    1. Totally agree.

      A lot of gay people get their back up (and rightfully so) if ‘gay’ is used as an insult. So why then is it such an outrage to ask people if they’re willing to disclose?

      There was even a “Prefer not to say” option FFS!

      Get a grip, people!

    2. Speaking as someone who was raised Jewish, in an area where a lot of people were Jewish or Asian, yes, people are often upset if they are asked about their ethnicity in a non-anonymous fashion where it could be used to discriminate against them. There are many situations where having someone demand, “Are you Jewish?” is a red flag. Remember, we’re not talking about anonymous data-collecting here.

      People have run experiments where they changed their apparent ethnicity in job applications, and the results were telling.

      People are frequently asked their gender on forms where it is totally irrelevant, and I would rather that didn’t happen either. Someone should not need to know my gender before they know how to respond to me. I’m guessing from your name that you’re male. Try being a woman talking to a technical support helpline and being told condescendingly that you should get your boyfriend to sort out your computer for you.

  17. Elinor Predota 6 Sep 2013, 12:29pm

    This is Barnsley College getting their equal opportunities monitoring really, really wrong. It should be on a separate form, which has no identifying information on. They need some HR advice.

  18. I’m not convinced this question should be asked on a college application for several reasons. But “protected group” identification can easily be filled out during student registration process first week of school. Without opinion on the issue, I know some students try hard to hide their orientation during high school.

  19. As one pupil observes, “it was in amongst a jumble of basic questions you expect like contact details and ethnicity”.

    If it’s OK to ask about your ethnicity and is something you expect, surely questions of cis/trans and bi/straight/gay/a belong in the same place as race?

    1. er no its not ok and its not about race its called mind your own business

  20. Unless they also require this of teachers and other staff, it is unfair. It is one thing to say that people won’t be bullied if they come out, but quite different to pressure them into fitting into a box.

  21. Surely, if it’s merely for impersonal statistics, the question should be asked on a separate, anonymous card, that can be placed in a separate box.

    I suppose this was though appropriate (in the same way that the question is asked in pretty much every recruitment application now.

    However, a college should be aware of the pressures upon a 16 year old to conform, and that they might not, as of yet, be in a position to discuss their sexuality with anyone.

  22. BlokeToys 6 Sep 2013, 1:36pm

    This is a tricky one. When answering such questions, you never know who is going to be reading it and making decisions that could affect your entire life.

    What if the process of enrollment was being controlled by a bigot? That is something that should go through everyone’s mind when answering these questions.

    I recall filling out many employment applications when I was in my 20’s where this question came up.

    If I answer “homosexual”, how am I to know if that is going to be used to justify rejection by a bigot? If I answer “prefer not to say” how do I know that the person seeing that isn’t going to deem me “untrustworthy” or “dishonest”?

    If I answer “heterosexual”, I know that my answer is not going to be relevant to anyone making that decision who may be bigoted.

    This leads many hundreds of thousands of people answering in just that way. The process doesn’t achieve anything because anyone with a modicum of common sense would choose the latter if it’s a life-changing decision.

  23. I’d say this says more about the school since some of these kids feel so badly about being asked their sexuality in a way that others might see.

    Clearly the school has failed at explaining how sexuality is natural and not something their peers have a right to attack them over.

  24. But there is no obligation on the students to disclose their sexuality but I can’t understand why they feel pressured to tick a box or reduced to tears at the sight of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered.

    Then again, badly designed questionaire?

  25. essexgirlbecky 6 Sep 2013, 2:56pm

    The case for monitoring is made out in the EHRC publication Beyond Tolerance

    We are discovering that a “one size fits all” approach to the way public authorities deliver services does not always work, and services sometimes need to be modified to suit the needs of different sections of the community. But we need to be able to demonstrate a demand for culturally sensitive services before authorities provide them. That’s why the monitoring is necessary.

    But look at it this way: if in this Barnsley college, homophobic bullying is rife, how can it be addressed if LGBT people are too scared to report it because they don’t want anyone to know they are gay?

    1. essexgirlbecky 6 Sep 2013, 2:58pm

      That being said, because of the trust issues involved here, it would be much simpler if public authorities commissioned LGBT organisations to conduct their own research into the needs of their community.

  26. I find it peculiar to think that information about age, address, contact details, and next of kin are considered “standard impersonal information,” but questions about sexual and gender identity are somehow more “personal.” I can’t think of anything more personal than “next of kin.”

    The college should have explained more clearly the purpose of asking for this information and should have emphasized even more that certain questions are optional.

    I can understand that some people may fear that others will misuse the information. So the College should take pains to reassure students that the information will be held in confidence.

  27. Derek Williams 6 Sep 2013, 3:10pm

    Just shows why we need this to be on employment forms and enrolment forms. It is regarded as such a negative thing.

    It is good to be gathering this information. It won’t be disclosed to other students or staff and shouldn’t be a negative thing even if it is. Any institution that asks these questions clearly won’t mistreat the people it is asking.

  28. What do you tick if you’re a gay transgendered person? Oh the confusion.

  29. I work for an LGBT organisation that supports monitoring- but only if it is done right. The question was badly worded (confusing sexuality with gender identity) and badly presented- as several people have pointed out, there are many ways in which this could have been done annonymously, while still getting a rough idea of numbers. monitoring is important in that it is impossible to know if you are providing a proper service to your clients, but HOW you ask is just as important as WHAT you ask. I do think the ‘outrage and upset’ is a bit overdone, though…

  30. This has more to do with the laziness, stupidity and insensitivity of compliance bureaucrats and educational administrators than with genuine and supportive equal opps practice. It is reducing LGBT students to a dehumanised statistical reporting category rather than seeking to support their best interests in the real world learning environment.

  31. Dan Filson 7 Sep 2013, 10:36am

    Data enables analysis, to determine whether there is under-representation of particular groups whether gender, race or sexual orientation. Then questions can be asked as to why, and whether the under-representation is statistically significant. Then consideration can be given as to what needs putting right. We have to get used to monitoring sections on forms, it’s part of the process of checking our systems are non-discriminatory (even unconsciously systems can be discriminatory). But it was surely inept not to make it clear on the form – if it wasn’t made clear – that this information was being gathered solely for monitoring purposes and would not be seen by the persons processing the applications. My worry is that article may be part of a general campaign against such monitoring.

  32. I remember a receptionist at my council asking me a couple years ago if my sexual orientation was straight, lesbian, bi, or trans (for official statistics on providing equality or …something). The stupidity of the question left me stunned for a few seconds.

  33. To me, being reduced to tears seems like an over reaction. I see the only reasons this information would be needed would either be for simple statistics (this many GLBT students so we need resources for this many people) or as part of the criteria when matching roommates. I guess they could have simply listed this as an optional question, with no ‘prefer not to say’ box. That might have allayed the fears of the more sensitive.

  34. I’ve applied to several colleges in the East Midlands [New College Nottingham, Burton & Derby Colleges , complained about this cut off the box as it’s at the bottom of the page, & enclosed a letter objecting to being questioned. I did get a reply from the Equality Officer at Burton College ‘explaining’ that they ‘had’ to include the questions as part of the Equality Act. They all put two questions ‘Is your gender the same as your birth gender?’ and ‘what is your sexual orientation?’ Both of the ‘answers’ were binary [ yes/no-gay/straight ] with no bisexual, or celibate for that matter, or ‘Asexual/Androgynous’ options so they are Very simplistic as well as intrusive. I can only imagine how a 16 year old would feel about these questions, especially if their family are homophobic/transphobic or they’ve been bullied. The NHS Drs database includes this question too. This is I.D cards by the back door. If they have to ask they should be on a separate anon form.

  35. I have never been required to state orientation on an official document – E & D forms have been separate and anonymous in all cases.
    Having said all that I would not have known how to answer at 16 / 17.

  36. It is nobody’s business. Period

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