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California colleges consider asking applicants: Are you gay?

The University of California system is considering asking about applicants' sexual orientation. Gay-rights groups applaud the move, but others are worried about student privacy.

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Some academics say it is a bad idea.

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“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,’ ”

She admits to some concern for students in the first three to four years until public acceptance rises, but says that younger students are far more open to such matters than older generations.

It helps that California is the state in play, says John Lewis, legal analyst for Marriage Equality USA. And also that the practice would be voluntary.

“It’s important to point out that the government was discriminatory in don’t ask, don’t tell and now that that’s over, we are seeing gay pride events and LGBT groups from West Point to the Coast Guard. The military is now a better place because they can serve openly.”

Others feel that the idea is a waste of resources and would provide little benefit.

“The job of the university is first and foremost to provide an opportunity for students to learn and get exposure to the repository of knowledge residing in the halls of higher education,” says Len Shyles, professor of communication at Villanova University, via e-mail.

"Nowhere is it part of that mission to count up how many members of this or that sexual orientation are in attendance," he says.

He adds that if a respondent's sexual orientation were requested as a line item on a government form, a mortgage application, or any other official documents, “the outcry against such a policy would, it seems to me, be deafening. So I remain skeptical regarding the efficacy of such a policy.”

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