In what the U.S. Census Director has called a “clerical error,” the Census Bureau has removed questions from the Census regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. The 2020 census would have been the first time they were included.
This comes on the heels of a similar removal from two other health-related surveys.
If you’re wondering why the fight to include sexual orientation/gender identity on national surveys is an important one, it’s because government data drives government decision-making. If the government doesn’t know how many LGBTQ individuals there are, how will it know what services they need or what programs will best serve them? Failing to include LGBTQ questions in federal surveys effectively bars these groups from consideration during policy-debate in any real sense.
Likewise, if LGBTQ groups recognize a problem but don’t have access to concrete data, how can they advocate effectively or convincingly?
It also has implications for accountability. An official that represents a district that he knows is 80% African American would face political push-back if he or she voted for a policy that would harm African Americans. But that pressure doesn’t exist for LGBTQ policies—officials have no real way of knowing how many people they represent are identify as members of the LGBTQ community.
Including sexual orientation and gender identity in the census would have been a step forward for LGBTQ advocacy and policy.
Instead, the LGBTQ population is forced to continue their “fight for visibility” (a great read by Tim Teeman about why this erasure is so significant).
Another consequence: the possible politicization of government data. There’s no reason to believe that this erasure was a result of political pressure from the Trump administration, but the decision to remove questions of sexuality from the other two surveys may very well have been. If this change was a result of pressure, it would be a scary step away from open and free information, transparency, and data-driven decision-making.
But whether the decision to exclude the question was political or not, it’s consequences certainly are.
Here’s what we can do:
- First and foremost, continue to stand with our LGBTQ friends and neighbors.
- Call on your representatives to show their support for LGBTQ rights.
- Support the efforts of organizations that collect data and advocate independently like the Williams Institute, the National Center for Transgender Equality, SAGE, GLSEN, and the Anti-Violence Project.
Data isn’t sexy but it is important and we should fight for it.