06/22/2010 03:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Forgotten Underrepresented Minorities

When students apply to college or graduate school, they discover (or rediscover) the status of the Underrepresented Minority (URM). Underrepresented minorities are often specifically sought out by educational institutions in order to increase their diversity. So who gets counted as a URM? The Association of American Medical Colleges defines it as "those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population." The Law School Admission Council also essentially equates "underrepresented minority" with "ethnic/racial minority" on its website. The groups most commonly cited, specifically, are African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.

But to use the term "underrepresented minority" to refer to ethnic or racial minorities is deceptive. While of course many ethnic and racial minorities are underrepresented in the medical and legal professions, if the goal is to have America's professional fields be more representative of the American fabric, then perhaps the definition of "underrepresented minority" should be more inclusive. According to the Center for American Progress, gay and transgendered students are half as likely to "finish high school or pursue a college education compared to the national average." In other words, if ten percent of Americans are gay or transgendered, gay or transgendered Americans with a college degree will compose less than five percent of the United States.

Diversity, of course, is not the sole justification for seeking out underrepresented minorities, however. Ethnic and racial minorities in the United States have long faced discrimination and, often as a result, poverty. Such discrimination has made it difficult for them to climb the social ladder in the United States, and affirmative action was implemented to combat the lingering effects of discrimination. Somehow, however, the long-standing discrimination against gay and transgendered Americans was -- and continues to be -- ignored.

Sexual minorities in the United States have long endured demonization in the media, brutality at the hands of police, discrimination sanctioned by law, criminalization of intimacy, and the list goes on. Some might argue that, in contrast to discrimination against sexual minorities, the nature of discrimination against ethnic or racial minorities made conditions such that disadvantages to members of a family long ago were inherited by each successive generation. This might be true, and I am not trying to argue that ethnic and racial minorities have not suffered greatly. Yet the stigma of merely existing as a sexual minority in the United States has for a long time been accompanied by the strong possibility of being rejected even by one's own family. Indeed, it is often the case that intolerant families force their own children out of their homes, leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets: the Center for American Progress puts LGBT youth as 20-40% of all homeless youth.

And despite the progress that gay and transgendered Americans have made in recent years, our schools remain dangerous places for us. According to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), "86.2% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 44.1% reported being physically harassed and 22.1% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation." A supermajority (60%) of LGBT students reported that they "felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation." Given the problems faced by gay and transgendered youth in our schools -- and the discrimination faced by gay and transgendered adults in society generally -- it is no surprise that they have lower grade-point averages, resort more often to drugs and alcohol, and are by far more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

So if gay and transgendered Americans are underrepresented in colleges and professional fields, and if we face discrimination both in our schools and in society at large, why are we not considered "underrepresented minorities"?