MULTIPLE CHOICE

CA Colleges, Judiciary Putting Sexual-Orientation Question On Applications. Good News Or Bad?

Once upon a time, it was standard practice to ask a potential hire if they were married—and if they were a woman, if they were planning on having kids any time soon. Times changed (for the better) and certain inquiries were ruled unacceptable on applications and in interviews.

But now, the wheel has turned and questions about sexual orientation are cropping up again on forms and surveys. Not to exclude anyone, this time, but ostensibly to create a more diverse environment.

Recently, the Judicial Applicant Data Report was sent to judges in California and, among the numerous questions, jurists were asked to state their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The questions are the result of  legislative measure SB 182, enacted last year, that aims to add sexual diversity to other considerations.

As Equality California explains:

Diversity on the bench matters. Yet California’s judiciary suffers from a lack of diversity. SB 182 ensures that voluntary data on the gender identity and sexual orientation of potential judges is gathered through the state’s Judicial Applicant Data Report, alongside existing questions on gender and racial or ethnic identity.

The online survey is voluntary and names are kept confidential but some 40% of the Golden State’s bench-warmers refused to answer the question.

But, as we all claimed when Judge Vaughn Walker ruled against Prop 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, that the orientation of a judge has no bearing on his or her decisions, why are we asking?

Fox News, hardly the standard bearer for fair-and-balanced coverage, actually raises a valid point:

Critics say the question, much like asking about religious preference and voting records, is immaterial to a judge’s qualifications and ability to weigh evidence. They say the survey amounts to an invasion of privacy, and a threat to fair rulings from the bench.

“This is an outrageous violation of the total concept of blind justice and equality for all,” says Brad Dacus, president of the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute.

Dacus says appointments should be based solely on competence and experience. “We should work hard to oppose bias on the bench and off the bench when it comes to the selection of judges, and the criteria by which they are evaluated. That’s what true equality is all about, and that’s what people want when it comes to presiding over their cases in a courtroom.”

But maybe the point of the question is to ensure judges aren’t being overlooked because of the sexuality or gender expression? If so, the findings aren’t so encouraging: Just over 1% stated they were gay or transgender.

At the same time, the University of California school system may be asking incoming students to reveal their sexual orientation.

According to ABC News, only students already planning on coming to U of CA schools will be asked:

The system’s Academic Senate initiated the proposal, which would add an additional question to the statements of intent students fill out when deciding to go to the University of California. The statements already include a host of identifiers such as race,  gender, and ethnicity.

The question will not be asked on applications to the schools because students may feel uncomfortable filling out the forms in front of their parents, according to Robert Anderson, chair of the senate.

The idea is to make sure enough services and funding are given to provide for LGBT students, which is great, of course.

But it seems it will be part of the acceptance form, meaning it won’t be anonymous. And how accurate a tally would it be if many incoming freshman haven’t come out yet, or see their sexuality as more complicated than a multiple-choice question.

As we’ve seen time and again, once information is out there, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.

Or maybe we’re worrying to much: What do you think? Is asking jurists and college kids about their sexual orientation just as harmless as asking about their age and gender. Or is it still a sensitive topic that should be handled very carefully, lest it be used against them down the line.