Sexual Identity

In Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) project/program evaluations, sexual identity can be best described as “don't ask; don't tell.” Information about sexual orientation is rarely asked or considered in the analysis or interpretation of results. Heterosexuality is the normative assumption. Without opportunities for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) to voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation, evaluators will not know if there are issues tied to homophobia, being identified as homosexual or bisexual, or being closeted that impact the effectiveness of different STEM projects/programs.

Asking and answering questions about sexual identity can be very sensitive. “Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the United States encounter extensive prejudice, discrimination, and violence because of their sexual orientation... More recently, public opinion has increasingly opposed sexual orientation discrimination, but expressions of hostility toward lesbians and gay men remain common in contemporary American society.”1

Where sexual identity is or is potentially significant in the evaluation, an evaluator needs to be aware of this history and create a safe, accepting space for data collection. This can include something as simple as adding an “other, please specify” option in the demographic question about sex which acknowledges the existence of transgendered and intersexual people or asking adults a specific question about sexual orientation such as:
Do you think of yourself as:

  1. Gay or lesbian
  2. Straight, that is not gay or lesbian
  3. Bisexual
  4. Something else
  5. Not sure2

Evaluators may want to explain why the question is being asked and stress that participants can choose not to respond. If they are not already on the evaluation team, having LGBT people participate in the evaluation as advisors and/or reviewers can help the evaluator design the data collection so as to collect better, more accurate data. Evaluators should reflect on their feelings about sexuality, including homosexuality and bisexuality. If evaluators, or others involved in the evaluation, are uncomfortable with different sexual orientations, they should not be involved in the data collection.

Sexual identity is not the only defining variable of an individual or a group. As appropriate, the analysis needs to include other types of diversity such as race and ethnicity, income and education level.

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For more about the role of context in evaluation, click here

2Greytak, E, Gutierrez, E & Greene, K. (2012). Eval 12 Session 654: Don't ask, can't report - A practical guide to collecting data on lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender people in a culturally responsive way.