Late last year, we noted that the University of Iowa asked about students’ sexual orientations in its application packet.

Now, another state is extending the “Ask and Tell” policy: Washington State’s community colleges add voluntary questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to all student registration forms.

Starting this summer, more than 500,000 students in the 34 institutions that make up the Washington State Community and Technical College System are being asked to answer optional questions about their sexual orientation and their gender identity on registration forms.

This is the first time that an entire system of two-year colleges will track data on students who identify as LGBTQ – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. The change could send a powerful message to other universities and colleges around the country to follow suit, said Matthew Shrader, who was one of the five students who originally conceived the plan in 2011.

“If an entire state system is doing it, then I think it is going to start a movement,” said Shrader, who previously attended South Puget Sound Community College and now is a student at the University of Washington.

In 2011, Elmhurst College, a private institution in Illinois, became the first college to ask such questions on an undergraduate admission application. One year later, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also added a question about students’ sexual orientation/gender identity on its admissions application. In 2012, the University of Iowa became the first public institution to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Some institutions – such as the Adler School of Professional Psychology ask students if they would consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community.

In May, the Oregon House approved a bill to require each public university, community college or other institution of higher education in the state to “allow all students, faculty and staff” to identify sexual orientation “on any forms used to collect demographic data that includes gender, race or ethnicity.” But the legislation stalled in the Senate.

The new questions that will appear on the Washington State two-year college registration forms are “What is your sexual orientation?” and “What is your gender identity?” The choices for the first question are bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, straight/heterosexual and prefer not to answer. The choices for the second question are feminine, masculine, androgynous, gender neutral, transgender, other and prefer not to answer. Answering the questions is optional, and Shrader emphasized that the responses are completely confidential.