The United States conducts a Census every 10 years to count everyone living in the United States and its territories. The government, statisticians, and scientists—as well as activists, lawmakers, advocates, and more—then use that data to inform their work. But historically, the LGBTQ+ community has been undercounted in the Census. Guest blog writer Shruthi Shivkumar takes a look at why LGBTQ+ folks are often erased from this process—and why we need to make a change.
LGBTQ+ people are undercounted
First, the Census does not explicitly ask about sexual orientation and gender identity. This leads to incomplete data that under-estimates how many people identify as LGBTQ+. Second, many LGBTQ+ people also belong to other groups that historically have been marginalized. For example, the Census often under-counts people of color, immigrants, lower-income people, renters, those who live in rural areas, and those who are experiencing homelessness.
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In contrast, the Census frequently double-counts or overcounts the white population, homeowners, and wealthy people. This leads to disproportionate funneling of resources, reinforcing a flawed, oppressive system.
Why LGBTQ+ people should fill out the Census anyway
Even if the Census does not directly ask questions about the LGBTQ+ community, we need LGBTQ+ people to complete it because the data it collects affects us in a variety of ways.
First, the US uses this data to allot seating & draw government districts. Electing members of government who support LGBTQ+ rights allows us the opportunity to fight for legislation that benefits our community, which can directly impact areas like non-discrimination laws, community program funding, HIV healthcare resources, and more.
We also use this data to determine financial allotment to state programs such as education, Medicaid, housing vouchers, and SNAP. These are especially vital to the LGBTQ+ community, because a high number of LGBTQ+ people experience food insecurity, lack of insurance coverage, and poverty.
Finally, Census data is crucial to advocating for better laws and policies and enforcing civil rights. Decision-makers then use this data to advocate for LGBTQ+ friendly policies or to assert why a certain law is harmful. For example, demographers used the 2010 Census data in policy work surrounding marriage equality and LGBTQ+ families.
What to expect
The 2020 Census is more inclusive than in previous years, but it is not fully inclusive. For example, it allows someone to report their “same-sex husband/wife/spouse” or “same-sex unmarried partner” as a member of their household. However, that is where inclusion and specific data on the LGBTQ+ community stops. The 2020 Census:
- Does not include explicit questions about sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). This means that single LGBTQ+ people are not counted. It also means that we will not know the specific sexual orientation or gender identity of those cohabitating couples.
- Only provides binary gender options of female & male, forcing nonbinary people to misgender themselves just to fill out the Census.
- Limits parent-child relationships to “biological, adopted, or step.” This leaves some LGBTQ+ parents without a way to report their parent-child relationship that is fully reflective of their specific family structure. For more on this, click here to read Shelbi Day’s blog post.
These frustrations, coupled with an Administration that has rolled back nondiscrimination protections and targeted the LGBTQ+ community and other historically marginalized groups, may make some members of our community think twice about filling out the Census. LGBTQ+ people living in socially conservative areas that lack nondiscrimination laws, such as the South, may be especially reluctant to include information that reveals more about who they live with, especially when those relationships are not legally recognized or protected. However, the Census is confidential, and responses cannot be personally identified. Despite any frustrations or hesitation you may be feeling, it is imperative that all LGBTQ+ people fill it out as thoroughly and accurately as possible.
Fighting for a more inclusive Census
Family Equality will continue to fight for a more inclusive Census that includes:
- Explicit questions about sexual orientation & gender identity
- A non-binary gender option
- More options for describing parent-child relationships, that account for the diverse structures of LGBTQ+ families.
Having questions like these would allow LGBTQ+ people to fill out a Census that accurately reflects who they are and what their family looks like. It would also provide activists, advocates, lawmakers, and attorneys with more complete data to fight for legal and lived equality.
The first step to developing a more inclusive Census is to fill it out! The Census deadline has not passed. Make sure you and your family are counted by completing the Census if you haven’t already!
Then, join Family Equality and others in continuing to fight for more accurate and inclusive data collection. If the voice for a better Census grows more powerful and loud, we can make a stronger case for a more inclusive 2030 Census. Up-to-date, comprehensive information about the LGBTQ community is essential in our fight for legal and lived equality.