Recently, Ron's wife was filling out an application for Bellevue College when she noticed something interesting. Instead of the standard "Male" and "Female" boxes that one checks on applications, there was the question: What is your 'gender identity'? And seven different options: Feminine, Masculine, Androgynous, Gender Neutral, Transgender, Other and Prefer Not To Answer.
Under that is the question: "What is your sexual orientation?" Where you can then check Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Straight/Heterosexual, Other or Prefer not to answer.
After Ron showed us the application, we wondered why they were collecting this data. So I went down to Bellevue College and got some answers from the LGBTQ Center adviser, Colin Donovan.
"We started collecting the data this fall quarter. It's about being able to track how well GLBTQ, and gender variant students, are doing in school and how we can design better services, better classes, better programs to make sure these students succeed. Up until this point there has been no way to track how that's done."
The data is 100 percent private and not shared with anyone, and for now will only be used internally. This new data collecting system was accepted by all community and technical colleges in Washington state.
Petri Muhlhauser is involved in the school's LGBTQ Center leadership program. She says sometimes LGBTQ students have different needs.
"A trans student was in my class and there was an assignment that involved bringing in pictures of your family from when you were a child," Petri explained. "She wasn't comfortable bringing in a picture with her birth sex visual in that picture. She just dropped the class because she didn't know how to talk to the teacher about it and she was so uncomfortable. And so we're seeing these kinds of things all the time. Up until now we haven't had a way to actually take this to administration and point at numbers that say, 'Look, our students are having a particularly hard time and we need to do something about this.'"
Colin hopes the data, that will probably be analyzed after a year, could help fund LGBTQ centers for education and programming. So that the 500 students who pass through the center every quarter can actually get jobs after they graduate.
"I believe I am the only out trans staff member at Bellevue College," Colin said. "I can say, from my own experience, that employment is extremely difficult for trans and gender variant people. People might be hesitant to hire someone if they don't fit into one of the other boxes or they might be worried about some backlash because their customers might not be comfortable with you. So they just won't hire you. Of course they won't say that because that's illegal. But that's what happens. The unemployment and homeless rate for people who are gender variant is huge. Being able to collect these statistics will help colleges really provide support to make sure that we can start to make a dent in these issues."
Petri hopes the data will help with something very tangible.
"One of the big things that we're looking at, and pushing for, right now is gender neutral bathrooms on campus. There are fifteen gender neutral bathrooms on campus but only three of them are available for students and one of them is specifically for dance students. So that's two gender neutral bathrooms, both of which are in the library."
It's something that LGBTQ leadership student Teague Crenshaw would appreciate.
"When I was in drag, one day, and I used the men's bathroom, I got so much flack. I had almost everyone in that bathroom saying, 'Why isn't she using the women's bathroom?' and 'Let's take a picture of her.' And all sorts of crap like that."
In a society where we often talk about being colorblind and not seeing someone as gay, but just as a person; why break down gender and sexual preference into micro categories?
"If we were all getting treated the same, that would be a great plan and I would totally be all in favor of it," said Petri. "There are incidences of harassment. If you say, oh, let's all be blind to this. Let's all treat everybody the same and pretend these differences don't matter, then you miss where it does matter and where students are being hurt because of it."