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California colleges consider asking applicants: Are you gay?

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

“Just as with demographic information on race, gender, and age, this will help higher learning institutions gauge what they want and need to offer,” she says.

The data is important for the institution as well as other LGBT students, she adds.

“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,” she says. “Plus it makes a difference in the funding and support that such centers will get.”

Some academics say it is a bad idea.

“I see the bureaucracy coming up with ostensibly real reasons why this is needed – for reasons of diversity and funding and teaching," says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.

But technical breaches of information banks point to the need for highest caution, she says.

“I don’t think they have any evil intent, but until we can insure that such information remains absolutely private, I would argue for more security," she adds. "Recording unnecessary personal data and having it available for leaks is something we have proven we are not yet sensitive enough to.”

Activist Ms. Kendell counters that such fears come within a shame-based context that LGBTs need to break out of.

“This is not 'don’t ask, don’t tell' but rather do tell,” she says. “It says, ‘You can be open and the institution will support you,’ ”

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