Gay, Straight or Trans, Asks UK College

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Saturday September 7, 2013

A U.K. college has been under fire from LGBT groups after asking incoming freshman to mark down their sexual orientation on their college enrollment applications.

"I'm not sure why it's on the front of an enrollment form," said Kay Tinkler, co-chairman of the Barnsley Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Forum in a Britain's Daily Mail article. "Coming from a 16-year-old's point of view when just filling in your name on a form can be daunting, it is probably better done anonymously in a way that respects people's privacy."

The form asked 16- and 17-year-old students to indicate whether they were bisexual, a gay man, a lesbian, heterosexual, transsexual or "prefer not to say." The question reportedly had some students in tears, claiming it was an invasion of their privacy.

"You did feel under pressure to tick a box and then if you ticked 'prefer not to say,' it might make people question why you have done that," 16-year-old student Kelsey Bennett told the Mail.

A Barnsley college spokesman said it was a method of monitoring the success rates of protected groups including age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

"Sexual orientation monitoring can be a helpful tool in making sure that all students receive a high quality experience, but it is simply not acceptable that students were asked to disclose their sexual orientation in a way that failed to respect their privacy," said Wes Streeting, head of education at equality campaigners Stonewall.

Officials at Barnsley said that the question was part of the "general equality duty" that came into effect in 2011 and requires public authorities to consider how they can "contribute to advancing equality." But the principal did express regrets over how it was handled.

"We apologize to any students who were upset over questions asked on our enrollment form," said Barnsley College Principal Colin Booth. "All colleges are required to collect this and similar information in order to fulfill our duties under the Public Sector Equality Duty 2011. We will review and change how we collect this information, taking into account feedback from our students."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.