This new trend does assume that applicants who encounter the question will assume the askers have good intentions. And historically, this has not been a safe assumption. Until recently, people joining the military had to sign a paper that said they were not homosexuals. An enlisted lesbian explains what it was like enlisting, 13 years ago, on Outserve.org (website of the Association of Actively Serving LGBT Military Personnel):
"My recruiter made me sign a piece of paper saying I was not gay, never had sex with anyone of the same gender, and never attempted to marry anyone of the same gender. I signed it because I did not understand to what extent the Army was going to make me hide a part of myself."At Westmont College outside of Santa Barbara, all incoming students must sign a document assuring the administration that they will not engage in "homosexual practice," as reported by The Advocate.
Despite the very understandable hesitations some students may feel in answering a question about their sexual orientation, if these schools continue to frame self-identification in a positive light (at Elmhurst students are eligible for additional scholarship money; at UPenn, prospective students are contacted by LGBTQ students who answer their questions) and continue to make the question optional, I am all for it.