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Raising the bar: law schools in the heartland struggle to recruit LGBT students.

Liz Van Deusen, a first-year law student at the University of Iowa College of Law in Iowa City, is frustrated. Despite the administration's best efforts, only one other student at the law school self-identifies as gay. "We need to do a better job of promoting ourselves as a welcoming environment," says Van Deusen, "so that prospective students understand that they don't have to be in a major metropolitan environment to have a gay-positive experience in law school."

That's the challenge facing many law schools in the American heartland these days, as budding LGBT lawyers and legal scholars flock to programs in big cities, leaving schools that are in seemingly less cosmopolitan environs scrambling for diversity.

"It's definitely difficult for schools in the Midwest and South to attract politically active students, regardless of sexual orientation," says Carolyn Bratt, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law in Lexington. But she knows firsthand how difficult it can be to be gay in her part of the country: She taught for 15 years before she publicly came out while testifying before a state legislative committee against a pending homophobic bill.

Since then, "things have changed," says Bratt, who's been at the law school almost 32 years. After many previous unsuccessful attempts, an LGBT student organization was finally formed at the law school three years ago; and recently, while recruiting a gay professor, Bratt says the school "went out of its way to make him understand there was a gay community in Lexington so he wouldn't be out in the middle of nowhere."

Still, many (if not most) LGBT students at Kentucky keep their sexuality under wraps out of fear that being gay and lesbian will prevent them from employment in the state after graduation. "I want these kids to stay in Kentucky as out gay and lesbian people," Bratt says. "I don't want to send them to Chicago and Atlanta."

Van Deusen agrees. She'd like the College of Laves admissions office to reach out to LGBT people by specifically asking about sexual orientation on the questionnaire given to prospective students, rather than simply alluding to "diversity" as a general concept in its literature.

"It might sound utopian, but that's what our legal system is based on," she says of her goal of equal opportunity. "Iowa is moving forward. Now is a good time for Iowa queers to be more proactive in our approach to things."
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Author:Weinstein, Steve
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:May 22, 2007
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