A pending cert petition to the Supreme Court renews the discourse of the heavily debated practice of affirmative action. A white student claims she was not granted admission to the University of Texas because of her race, challenging the 2003 standing ruling of Grutter v. Bollinger, which dealt with the University of Michigan, where affirmative action prevailed. The University of Texas contest disputes the former court case, which is likely to be overturned by a more conservative court without Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
In Grutter v. Bollinger the focus is completely on race and ethnicity, but a recent development now shows institutions such as Elmhurst College openly asking applicants about sexual orientation in their admissions process thereby including the LGBT community in affirmative action efforts. The University of Pennsylvania also openly recruits LGBT applicants and has student groups petitioning the Common Application for a question about sexual orientation. Yale Medical School follows similar practices. Applying this logic to a group from all different socioeconomic backgrounds is in danger of disrupting the aims of affirmative action. This is supposed to be a step for equality, shown by precedent of patterns of other minorities, but sexuality is too unique to each person and bias will ultimately bring the LGBT community more inequality.
An undergraduate admissions office asking 18-year-old applicants to list their sexual orientation is not only invasive, but could lead to a myriad of difficulties. Many are comfortable with their sexuality at such a young age, since the average age when someone comes out is 16, but it still is a completely personal and private matter. Not everyone can describe his or her sexuality as purely homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. When institutions favor teenagers who are “out,” it puts pressure on people to define their sexuality earlier when a lot of people figure themselves out in their undergraduate years.
Not only in education are members of the LGBT community being given deferential treatment, but professional organizations and large corporations are not only creating networks for, but also actively recruiting members of the LGBT community. One example is GLAM, or Gays and Lesbians at McKinsey & Co., the global consulting firm. While it is wonderful to create a community of LGBT peers, they also are part of active recruiting efforts. On their website, McKinsey writes that “LGBT consultants get the best of McKinsey, and more.” Google also has similar efforts with their “Gayglers.” This idea of a group of people getting “more” is the basis of inequality, and although affirmative action aims to remedy this by leveling the playing field, they are ultimately only giving special treatment to a specific group. Singling out specific minorities will only prove to be unfruitful.
Although LGBT students have high dropout rates, there are currently more black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850. It is not helpful to compare which group has it worse, but there are clear arguments to be made that as affirmative action begins to include so many types of people, the comparison could create a hierarchy of which minority struggles more and ultimately complicate affirmative action’s effectiveness.
Certain recruitment policies would clearly favor a LGBT person over an equally deserving applicant. Although they may not feel the need to explain to an admissions office or employer that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, a preferential treatment in fierce competition may persuade them to do so.
This persuasion to acknowledge one’s sexuality on applications is not a step towards equality, but a step deeper into inequality. An admissions and employment system should be based on merit and view all candidates without bias regardless of orientation. Sexuality should not be rewarded, but should be something so normal in our world that there is no need for favorability.
Photo Credit: Kevin Coles