data mining

Is It Time For Grade Schools To Start Asking Students If They’re Gay?

When news reports about colleges scouring undergrad applications about signs of gayness as a way to court LGBT students, there was the requisite outrage (how dare they target queers!) and celebration (they’re targeting queers!). The folks behind the Common Application, used by thousands of schools as a one-form-fits-all application, is even considering asking graduating high schoolers about their sexual orientation. Now one high school is doing the same thing — to get a handle on the queerness of its own student body. Wise idea or privacy invasion?

Canada’s Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is asking students in grades 7-12 — that’s 150,000 potential respondents — to fill out a voluntary online questionnaire that asks about everything from how much money their parents make, what religion they belong to, and what kind of job they imagine holding down in the future. Oh, and among the 43 questions is one that asks if they like other boys or girls or both. The parents of students in grade 6 and below will receive a different survey.


I’d say no. The more information a school has on its student body, the thinking goes, the more able it is to meet the needs of those students. It’s very easy for administrators and parents to overlook the needs of queer students because many of them exist invisibly, either by not being out or, even if they are out, not being registered in any quantitative way.

An anonymous survey that collects the data in aggregate is an excellent way to mine this information. And so long as it doesn’t violate existing student privacy laws, the data should be shared with parents, teachers, staff, and the community. That way there will be no question that certain demographics of students are walking the hallways, whether they’re poor (and need more funds directed at subsidized food programs), interested in a career in medicine (and could use a new class about disease and treatment), or gay (and are in desperate need of a guidance counselor trained in LGBT youth issues).

And if students aren’t comfortable revealing this information? Simply don’t respond to the survey.

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  • Tallest

    I’d take that survey. It’s all useful information the schools could use, although round here it would not go over well.

  • toyotabedzrock

    And if no one wants to tell then they get to assume there is no gays?

    This is dumb, they might end up driving kids back into the closet.

  • joe

    How do they confirm whether or not it’s true?
    It makes me rage to think that some ambitious types would lie (I’m thinking straight people claiming to be gay) in order to increase their chances of getting in.

    Besides, it’s not like gays are underrepresented in higher education (I wouldn’t think. In practice, it would be hard to measure, because higher-educated people probably find it easier to identify as gay, and then it would seem that gays are overrepresented in college…)

    I would like to see more statistics on gays, though.

  • Joe

    This article only tells half the story. I live in Ottawa, and the survey is NOT anonymous. Students are required to put their names on it, but their surveys will be confidential (not shared with teachers, admin, etc). This is one of the major f-ups of this stupid survey. Second, they ask questions like “How would you self-identify?” and go on to list bi, transgendered, gay, straight, questioning, or two-spirited. How many ADULTS could even explain what two-spirited means let alone some kid. This has epic fail written all over it.

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