Senate bill aims to increase demographic information on LGBT college students

Demographic data on the  lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in New Jersey, particularly LGBT college students, would be strengthened by a bill that passed the Senate Higher Education Committee at a Nov. 30 session.

Sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), this bill (S3227) requires New Jersey colleges and universities to allow students and faculty to identify their sexual orientation and gender identity on forms that are used to collect demographic data. The bill was moved forward unanimously by the committee.

“I would argue that the importance of collecting data on underserved populations cannot be overstated,” said Adam Potenza, director of programs at Garden State Equality, the state’s largest LGBT rights organization. “We collect data on race, ethnicity, sex and other demographic factors because we understand that without this data, policymakers, advocates and the general public lack the necessary tools to understand social and economic disparities.”

There is currently a lack of data on the LGBT population in New Jersey, Potenza said. Questions about sexual orientation and gender identity don’t appear on the federal census or statewide surveys such as the behavioral risk factor survey.

“Under our current administration in Washington, there’s an ongoing and effective movement to curtail the efforts made by the previous administration, which would have added (LGBT) data to federal surveys,” he said. “We need an accurate count of the size and needs of our community, and if we don’t have that, we can’t secure the needed funding to address community needs.”

Maren Greathouse, director of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers, said the bill would be a much-needed step in understanding the needs of LGBT college students if the full Senate passes it.

“Without having these demographics, we don’t know if we’re recruiting, retaining or graduating these students,” Greathouse said. “We don’t know if they’re feeling a sense of belonging on campus, and we really can’t appropriately serve and anticipate what will serve their needs well in college without this information.”

Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) echoed Potenza’s comments, adding that “everyone has to be counted — that’s the way it has to be. It’s easy to push people aside because they look a little different, so I agree that this is a good piece of legislation. Whether you agree with someone’s choices, the important thing is that they’re an American citizen and they deserve the same consideration as everybody else.”