Survey of students’ sexuality disregards LGBT experience

In a misguided attempt to protect LGBT youth from discrimination, researchers with Indiana University’s Equity Project are proposing that the U.S. government collect data in schools about students’ sexuality. 

Accurate data collection has been a valuable tool for groups marginalized by disability, race or ethnicity. It has helped prove that the number of students who face harassment from peers and retribution from their academic institution is disproportionate, based on their distinguishing characteristics. 

While LGBT youth do face these issues—which need to be addressed—a survey like what the Equity Project proposes may not be the solution.

Surveys have been conducted regarding sexuality of adults and some localized surveys of youth through organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, but implementing a survey through the Department of Education for youth on a national level brings uneasiness for LGBT youth, and rightfully so. 

The Equity Project compares sexuality to distinguishing features like race, ethnicity and disability. But unlike the latter three, a person’s sexuality is not immutable. It can be discovered slowly or even evolve as time goes on.

Existing evidence substantiates that LGBT youth face increased rates of bullying, harassment, suspensions and expulsions, according to a March 27 article by The Washington Post.

Surveying students about their gender identity and sexual orientation could violate privacy, contain triggering material and define sexuality narrowly. 

“Coming out” is an important part of the LGBT experience. Wanting to be open about sexuality is an individual decision. But being “outed” by a survey, no matter how well-intentioned, is disrespectful to those involved and their emotional processes. 

People can address their sexualities when they are ready and have come to terms with them on their own. A survey like this disregards that process and may be triggering or forcing youth to make declarations they are not ready to make.

Many schools in the U.S. do not offer much education addressing LGBT-related matters. Learning about sexualities can help many people define their own. How can schools expect students to understand and define their sexuality for a survey if that education is not provided to them? 

If this survey were conducted in schools nationwide, decisions would need to be made about how many options for sexuality or gender are offered. The number of sexual identities is still a point of contention in the eyes of many, and some argue there are infinite ways to define sexuality. 

The binary of gay and straight—or even including a third option of bisexual—does not fit the reality of many people’s sexuality and how they choose to define themselves.

Perhaps in the future, with more education and acceptance, data could be collected to help the LGBT community address issues. At this point, the risks involved in collecting the necessary data are too high to bring any real benefit. 

The reality of negative experiences in school for many LGBT youth is already known, regardless of any survey data proof. Instead of creating this survey, interpreting the data and then attempting to use it to create change, resources should be dedicated to promoting legislation for protection of LGBT students, forming safe spaces and creating educational opportunities for youth to foster a more understanding and accepting community for LGBT-identifying young people.