Asking LGBTQ Identity Questions in Forms and in Research

Updated: July 2021 

A growing number of colleges and universities are asking students their gender identity and sexual orientation on admissions forms and in research, either by having a question(s) on their own application or research materials or through a supplemental question(s) to widely -used forms like the Common Application.

The Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), the most comprehensive source of information on college students, has started to ask questions about gender identity.

Your school or research team should also begin to ask gender identity and sexual orientation questions on your applications, demographic forms and in research. These surveys bring better understanding of the students who are participating in your admissions applications, attending your school or participating in your college research studies. As a result, your college or university can place a higher value on safe, inclusive campus climates, diversity and a respect of the various identities that make each student unique.

Questions on gender identity and sexual orientation are needed for the following reasons.

  • More LGBTQ students are living openly when they apply to college and should be able to self-identify—just as they do with their race, ethnicity, or religion.  The questions that we are proposing on gender identity and sexual orientation would be optional.  LGBTQ students who are not living openly or not comfortable disclosing should not have to do so.
  • Colleges and universities across the country are seeking to track the numbers of openly LGBTQ students applying, being accepted, and enrolling in their institutions.
  • Some colleges and universities have scholarships for students in underrepresented groups or specifically for LGBTQ students. Others want to do special outreach to prospective LGBTQ students.  Again, institutions would benefit from having an easier way to identify these students.
  • Title IX requires institutions to protect students from discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. However, colleges are less able to meet this obligation if they do not allow the option for transgender students to disclose this important aspect of their gender and gender identity.

Depending on the context of your forms, it may be helpful to separate questions asking about gender and transgender identity. It’s important to remember that, for instance, cisgender men and transgender men are the same gender. Including both “male” and “transgender male” as options for gender identity could cause discomfort and lead to under-representation of transgender respondents.

We have included some language that you could adopt to allow a range of identities we find many LGBTQ students have. Other national groups, such as the Williams Institute and the Consortium of Higher Education have tips and suggested best practices for language to use.


Gender (optional; choose all that apply):




__Other (please specify): ____________________________


Do you identify as transgender and/or non-binary (Optional):




Sexual Orientation (optional; choose all that apply):

__ asexual

__ bisexual

__ gay

__ lesbian

__ pansexual

__ queer

__ questioning or unsure

__ same-gender loving

__ straight (heterosexual)

__ an identity not listed: please specify ____________________________


Allison Marie Turner is an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism and mass communication and women’s and gender studies. She is a 2015 Summer Fellow for Campus Pride. Follow her on Twitter @amturner1993.

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