In-Depth: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced this bill to ensure that the approximately 10 million Americans who identify as LGBTQ are properly counted and represented in Census data collection efforts:
“The spirit of the census is that no one should go uncounted and no one should be invisible. We must expand data collections efforts to ensure the LGBTQ community is not only seen, but fully accounted for in terms of government resources provided. This information can also provide us with better tools to enforce civil rights protections for a community that is too often discriminated against.”
Human Rights Campaign, National LGBTQ Task Force, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), and others support this bill.
In June 2016, then-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro wrote in a letter to former Census Bureau Director John Thompson that “valid, reliable, and nationally representative data on sexual orientation and gender identity are essential to HUD fulfilling its mission,” including enforcing the prohibition against unlawful employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requested adding SOGI questions to the ACS survey to help its equal employment opportunity efforts for LGBT individuals.
Justice Department officials in the Trump administration have questioned the “appropriateness” of adding certain SOGI topics to the ACS survey. According to former Census Bureau Director John Thompson, the Trump White House never contacted the Census Bureau about this issue.
Some data privacy experts worry that sexual orientation information collected in the census could be used against LGBTQ people, especially in states that do not have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender equality.
Within the LGBTQ community itself, there remains debate over whether it’s better or worse for the community to be counted in official government census counts. Jane Ward, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of California, Riverside, described the situation as follows:
“On the one hand, the mainstream gay and lesbian movement has always pushed for visibility, and a part of that is quantifying gay and lesbian identity. The logic there is that there’s safety in numbers and that the more of us who come out and get counted, the more legitimacy gay and lesbian people will have. This way of thinking has evolved past representation and into bio-essentialist claims that gay and lesbian people are born with homosexual constitutions that we can’t do anything about. As such, the mainstream gay and lesbian movement proposes that sexual orientation is immutable, and that there’s a large number of gay and lesbian Americans who should receive the same kinds of rights as other groups with ‘immutable differences,’ like race and gender, within the U.S. On the other hand, there’s a more queer perspective, which is weary of presuming that gay, lesbian, bi, trans people are discrete and bounded populations that you can easily count. As we become more attuned to sexual fluidity and the unpredictability of people’s sexual behaviors, presuming that we can count these identifications in a way that will tell us something meaningful is coming into question… So while I see the political efficacy of including sexual orientation on the census, which would certainly be useful for statistical claims related to inclusion and legitimacy, I also see why we might be less invested in quantifying queerness, too.”
There are 21 cosponsors of this bill, all of whom are Democrats.
Of Note: There are two nationwide Census Bureau surveys: The U.S. census, also known as the decennial census, is performed once every 10 years to estimate population, age, sex, and race demographics. This census’ data informs how much money states receive in federal funding, and determines Congressional and state legislative districts. The American Community Survey (ACS) is an annual survey that looks at population and determines where to send services and resources each year.
Undercounting creates many challenges for LGBTQ communities, chief among them underrepresentation and a lack of resources in programs like Medicaid, Section 8 housing vouchers, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)..
During the Obama administration, federal agencies formed a working group to discuss how best to collect SOGI information on federal surveys.
Prior to President Trump’s election, four federal agencies (the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Justice Department, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency) had asked to add SOGI questions to the American Community Survey. However, after President Trump’s inauguration, the Census Bureau concluded that there was “no federal data need” to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity on the ACS survey.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / South_agency)