Sexual Orientation

2011 Update:  

It is very gratifying to note that changes in the national acceptance of lesbians and gay men have made this one of the sections that most needed revision.  Since the Lawrence v. Texas decision in June, 2003, and the increasing discussion of gay and lesbian marriage, being out on your applications is less of a problem now than it was when I wrote this in 1996 (and far less than it was when I came out on my application in 1979.)  Gay Marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships are permitted in more states every month. Transgendered people have greater freedom of self-definition, both legally and socially, than was ever dreamed possible.

With the historic repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," more GLBT law students can look forward to better job prospects. Traditional excuses of illegality, immorality, and vulnerability have less force each year, and some law firms will want a token GLBT associate to point to, especially in the more urbane cities and law firms.

Most law schools don't attach any negative judgments to your sexual preference or orientation; many have nondiscrimination policies explicitly covering sexual preference. A few even include lesbians and gay men in their checklist of minorities. And a law school won't know about your sexual orientation unless you choose to talk about it.

So why should I talk about it?

There are several good reasons to come out on your application.

  • If your extracurricular or community activities revolve around gay and lesbian civil rights, this may help you show leadership qualities a school desires.
  • If you attempt to hide significant involvement with any group or activity and it is discovered later, you could be charged with submitting a fraudulent application.
  • Adjusting to society's disapproval of lesbians and gay men may have caused you some distress which was reflected in your grades, and which therefore should be explained in your personal statement or a grades addendum.
  • A significant amount of time spent working for societal change, particularly in a leadership role, for any cause may well count as the kind of "remarkable" background that merits special consideration.

Back in 1990, for instance, I had a client with a good LSAT score but very low grades and an erratic work record who had spent ten years working as a gay activist. He talked in his personal statement about being a "house husband," traveling from city to city with his partner and taking whatever jobs he could find to support himself there. He also talked about his work for gay rights in each city he went to. He was accepted at a number of schools, including Case Western and American University.  He was 7 index points lower than the median at those schools. From the applicant grid published by American the next year, I could see that 119 people applied with his numbers; he was one of the three who were accepted.

Will being openly gay ever hurt me?

Although the opposition is smaller every year, not all law schools welcome gay or lesbian activists. Religious law schools, in particular, may feel that their religious mission is inconsistent with seeking openly gay candidates. (I have it on good authority, however, that the law schools generally have a much more liberal stance on gays and lesbians than the universities at large.)

Other schools with a religious mission (as opposed to an historic religious affiliation) may have codes of morality to which you must adhere. Brigham Young, for instance, makes each student promise to follow an honor code which proscribes extramarital sex, among other things. These schools may feel that all homosexual behavior is sinful.

Should I ever stay in the closet?

Despite the limitations it may impose on your choice of law schools, I urge every gay person to come out, or at least to apply only to schools where your sexual orientation is not a problem. Do you really want to go to a school where you have to hide who you are?

More importantly, if you have ever been part of a GLBT social or political group, staying in the closet may be considered fraudulent. While I know of no such case involving a law school applicant, there is a seminal case concerning a gay activist who failed to list his involvement on a job application to be a public school teacher. When his orientation and activities were discovered, he was fired from his teaching position. A federal court later ruled that, while he could not be fired for being gay, his fraudulent application was a sufficient reason for his discharge. Acanfora v. Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education.

But won't the admissions committee dislike me?

As we used to chant in the olden days, "Two, four, six, eight, are your teachers really straight?"

Many admissions professionals are gay or lesbian, as are many law professors. Many others have lesbian or gay family members of whom they are supportive. In fact, the number of supporters of gay and lesbian applicants is sufficiently strong and vocal that Law Services has produced a number of videos for G & L applicants; you can read it on the Web. In addition, Law Services has conducted a survey of all member schools, asking about attitudes toward G & L applicants as well as whether any faculty and administrators are out of the closet.  The link is right here.

"I wish I could talk to a gay person about this."

Use that web link above, then look for someone you might want to talk to in the several videos available.  Or you can e-mail me, or the people listed on the survey, who are either gay themselves or can refer you to someone who is. If you want to speak to a gay or lesbian professional in your area, I will gladly try to arrange this for you.

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