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Trump-era agencies are reversing effortsto count LGBT people in crucial surveys—including the Census

“IN MANY WAYS, IF YOU’RE NOT COUNTED, YOU DON’T COUNT,” says Sharon McGowan, director of strategy at Lambda Legal, of the importance of government agencies collecting data from LGBT people.

“It’s how agencies decide where their resources need to be spent,” she continues. “So erasure of data could mean agencies completely ignoring the LGBT community because, for example, they’re directing all of their housing or support services through religious organizations that historically have been hostile to LGBT people. You are in essence denying folks access to these programs.”

And it seems that that’s what government agencies in the Trump era are trying to do based on actions they took in March. First, the Census Bureau abruptly reversed its announced proposal to ask LGBT questions going forward, saying that such inclusion had been “inadvertent”—a mistake. Hours later, LGBT language was scrubbed from its online proposal.

Then, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is now headed by notorious homophobe and transphobe Dr. Tom Price, deleted questions about LGBT people from early versions of two crucial surveys; one lends key feedback to programs that feed and care for seniors, the other helps shape programs for people with disabilities.

After pushback from groups including Lambda Legal and SAGE: Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders, HHS restored questions on sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

“What we’ve seen so far from the Trump administration at every opportunity,” says McGowan, “is a pulling back on any efforts to collect LGBT data. There’s a particularly anti-transgender group of people at HHS from Price on down. We’ll likely see them continue to try to throw up their hands and say, ‘We don’t need this.’”

Under the Obama administration, says McGowan, agencies stepped up efforts to collect LGBT data—particularly at Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “It was a leader in making sure its programs focused on homelessness in the LGBT population, particularly LGBT youth.”

Still, she says, “nobody was doing anything comparable to the importance of the Census info.” Adding new questions to the Census, which is done every decade, typically takes years of preparation, and there was no indication that the 2020 Census would yet include LGBT questions. But it appears that the bureau was moving in the direction of getting feedback on adding LGBT questions to its important American Community Survey, delivered annually to about 3 million households, in part to help decide how, where and to whom to allocate federal dollars.


Some tips from Nancy Marcus, Lambda Legal Law And Policy senior attorney:

  • Keep your eyes peeled for Lambda Legal tweets, blog posts and emails
  • Go to regulations.gov to submit short comments to agencies that are thinking of excluding LGBT data
  • Take to Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere to call out exclusion attempts and urge others to do the same!

“These erasures will have a generational impact on our community’s ability to benefit from government programs in the way that other groups expect,” says McGowan.

Thankfully, people are making noise about the erasures. In May, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) wrote outgoing Census Bureau head John Thompson asking him to explain the agency’s reversal on LGBT questions.

“It is critical that the Census Bureau’s process to include subjects to fairly and accurate count all Americans is impartial and free from undue interference,” the letter read.

And in July, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced legislation in both the House and Senate that would require federal surveys to include data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill “will help ensure that policy makers and community leaders have the information they need o help better understand the full extent of discrimination and better serve the communities they represent,” said Baldwin.

This moment, says McGowan, is crucial for congressmembers to pressure the Census Bureau and other agencies to not leave LGBT people behind in their data collection. It’s also crucial, in turn, for constituents to pressure their congressmembers to do so.

“The head of the Census has resigned,” she notes. (Thompson abruptly gave notice in May; President Trump’s pick for a successor to fill a five-year term must be confirmed by the Senate.) “Congress is currently deciding who will lead the Census into the future— and if we’re going to have a confident accounting of what America looks like going forward.”