University of Kentucky ends, then defends survey dealing with LGBT students' use of health services

jwarren@herald-leader.comApril 10, 2014 

A University of Kentucky health survey that was emailed to students last week has drawn attention from a conservative-leaning news website for college students.

UK officials said Thursday that the online questionnaire from University Health Services was part of a quality-improvement project. It included questions intended to gauge how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at UK use university health centers, they said.

However, a national website called Campus Reform, not affiliated with the university, reported that some students thought questions about sexual orientation and religious beliefs were invasive. According to a posting on the website, students who indicated that they were heterosexual were asked to agree or disagree with a set of statements, including "homosexuality is a sin," "male homosexuality is a perversion," and "homosexuality is a mental illness."

Dr. Keisha Bennett, an assistant professor of family and community medicine and the principal investigator on the survey, said she shut down the project Tuesday, after questions about it appeared on the website. The survey was to have continued until Sunday, she said. UK officials said in a statement Thursday that "some questions in the survey have been concerning to individuals."

The questions were approved by a university institutional review board, and the questions, "which ask about feelings about sexual identity or orientation, are from a validated scale used in peer-reviewed journals and used in previous surveys on other campuses," the statement said.

UK officials said the questions were intended to "assess campus climate and diversity of student beliefs, and to compare change in beliefs and attitudes ... among different campuses and over different time periods."

Bennett said that knowing students' attitudes on such matters is important, because the University of Health Service must serve both LGBT students and students who might feel that gay sex is wrong.

"The other designers of the study, who work in the health services, felt that they needed to have better services for LGBT students, but not at the expense of services for any other students," she said.

The authors of the UK survey had received no complaints about the questionnaire before the posting on Campus Reform, Bennett said. Additionally, she said UK distributed essentially the same questionnaire to students last year; other than questions from fewer than 10 students, it "didn't create too much of a stir."

In a related development, Lexington attorney Keith D. Elston, who specializes in LGBT-related law, said an organization he recently incorporated, Kentucky Youth Law Project Inc., will conduct an independent inquiry into the survey and the resulting controversy.

Elston said it appeared that some quotes were "taken out of context," and "many people were premature in condemning the study."

Elston said he will release a report after he completes a review of the survey.

"We're not quite sure what is going on," he said in an interview. "But the facts are that Campus Reform did an online article and it got picked up on the Internet and kind of spread virally.

"All I can think is that somebody who read the questionnaire got their back up, contacted Campus Reform and they ran with the story," Elston said.

As a result, many people were "misled by initial news media reports," he said.

According to Bennett, about 1,700 UK students took the survey before it was shut down Tuesday. About 3,500 responded to last year's questionnaire, she said.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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