Erasing LGBTQ People from the 2020 Census Isn't Just Wrong, It's Life-Threatening

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March 29, 2017
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Photo by: The National LGBTQ Task Force

Co-authored by Nancy Marcus, Lambda Legal Senior Advisor in the Law and Policy Project & Ariel Goldberg, Lambda Legal Deputy Digital Director.

If you’ve been on the internet at all in the past 24 hours, you’ve likely seen news outlets reporting that the 2020 census won’t include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

And it seems to be true. Although the census currently captures some information about LGBTQ people – such as the number of same-sex headed households – it generally does not break out information about individual sexual orientation or gender identity.

Previous plans for the 2020 census would have fixed this problem by including specific questions that would have allowed people to identify as LGBTQ for the first time in our nation's history. But the final report submitted to Congress by the Trump Administration yesterday omits these sections.

This is a deliberate dismissal of important data and an erasure of the LGBTQ community. It’s not just shameful, it’s dangerous.

The harm to LGBTQ people from being erased is not just about numbers (although those are certainly important). Census information helps determine the allocation of federally funded social services that are critically important to so many members of the LGBTQ community.

How will we know the extent to which social services (things like educational opportunities, food stamps, medical care and housing) are needed for at-risk LGBTQ populations and people living with or at risk for HIV if we don’t have the data? How will we be able to understand how many LGBTQ people are living in this country and experiencing systemic financial and social oppressions that disadvantage them in the health care system, lead to elevated rates of discrimination in seeking or maintaining employment and are the root cause of poverty and homelessness?

And although we know from Williams Institute studies that LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by domestic and other violence, poverty and homelessness, and suffer from high rates of physical and mental illness, how will we be able to obtain a complete picture of the needs of the LGBTQ community and everyone living with HIV without the full and accurate population and demographic data available through census?

Answer: We won’t.

If we aren’t counted, we won’t sufficiently get the critical services we need. It’s as simple as that.

If LGBTQ people aren't counted, we won’t sufficiently get the critical services we need. It’s as simple as that.

The Trump Administration is trying to make it harder for the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community to get the help they need.

The opportunity for an accurate census count only occurs once a decade, and it is imperative to get it right before the window of opportunity closes for another ten years.

And it’s not just that the initial draft would have included sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time. It’s that numerous collaborations with U.S. Census professionals had finally developed this vital criteria for gathering the data we have needed.

Social science researchers, health professionals, educators and so many others striving to meet the needs of our communities for years have been decrying the lack of population-based data about who and where we are. This is an assault on science and also on a uniquely vulnerable group of people living in the United States.

We number in the millions.

And we aren't going back.

Whether this administration wants to recognize us or not, LGBTQ people count.

We will continue to make ourselves seen and heard in our communities, in town halls, in the streets and in courtrooms nationwide. And Lambda Legal will be there to fight for our community every step of the way.