2020 census LGBTQ data is limited to same-sex couples : NPR
States along the West Coast and in the Northeast have the highest shares of households with same-sex couples, according to the latest 2020 census results released Thursday.
The new numbers from the Census Bureau make up the most comprehensive statistics the federal government has produced to date on married and unmarried same-sex couples living together.
But many other LGBTQ people, including those who are not living with a partner or who are in different-sex relationships, remain invisible in this key national data set that is used to determine political representation, enforce the protection of civil rights, informs research and policy making, and guides an estimated $1.5 trillion annually in federal money to public services in local communities.
“A lot of it is tied to Census Bureau data,” says Kerith Conron, research director of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. “Being invisible in those systems or kind of only partially counted is, I think, problematic.”
Former President Donald Trump’s administration has blocked efforts to get questions about sexual orientation and gender identity on a Census Bureau survey that is seen as a testing ground for changes to forms for -number of national heads of ten years.
Now, the Biden administration has renewed that process as advocates for more official statistics on LGBTQ populations continue to face long-standing data gaps that make it difficult to fully understand the needs of people among the rising anti-LGBTQ sentiment from right-wing groups.
Why are only same-sex couples living together represented in the 2020 census data on LGBTQ people?
While the forms for the last US census included a question about a person’s gender with options for “male” and “female”, they did not ask about sexual orientation or gender identity .
The Bureau, however, provided check boxes to a question about the domestic relationships that allowed people to identify as a “same-sex” or “opposite-sex” spouse or unmarried partner. Those new response options were introduced to improve the agency’s data on same-sex couples, which the bureau first began collecting in 1990 by comparing people’s responses to sex and their home relationship.
That way of doing a once-a-decade census produces only “one piece of the puzzle,” says Conron of the Williams Institute, which tracks estimates of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations.
“At this point, less than 20% of LGBT people live in families of same-sex couples,” explains Conron, based on the institute’s estimates. “This means we don’t know much about the 80% or more of LGBT people who have a different-sex partner or who are not living with a partner. And that is significant.”
For Josie Caballero, the lack of opportunity to identify as a trans woman in the 2020 census was disappointing.
“If we’re not asking the question, are you trans or not, in these surveys, it’s impossible for us to actually identify those disparities and ensure that funding and resources go to communities that they are in desperate need,” adds Caballero, who is the director of the Trans American Survey and special projects for the National Center for Transgender Equality.
What is the Biden administration doing to get more comprehensive census data on LGBTQ people?
Late last year, the Justice Department sent a formal request to the Census Bureau for questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to be added to the Bureau’s American Community Survey, according to a. recently released working paper by an officer of the Bureau.
“The request included citations of various statutes to justify the collection, including the need for data to properly enforce discrimination laws,” wrote Andrew Roberts, chief of the statistics branch. about the gender and age of the agency. Roberts also referred to a 2020 US Supreme Court decision that upheld that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity their gender.
Changes to census questions are often tested first on the American Community Survey, which is administered to about 1 in 38 households each year. The Bureau — which has been asking about sexual orientation and gender identity on experimental survey on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting households — is planning more experiments starting this year on how the American Community Survey can ask about these topics in English and Spanish after the -administration requested $10 million for this research.
Are there privacy concerns related to using the census to collect more data, especially with more anti-LGBTQ sentiment from right-wing groups?
Federal law prohibits the federal government from releasing personally identifiable census records until 72 years after a person’s Census Day, and it is illegal for the government to use census data against a person.
But the rise in legislation and anti-LGBTQ sentiment among right-wing politicians and other groups has underscored concerns about how census data can be misused and individuals identified by the new in anonymized statistics, a risk that the Bureau was trying to address through a new method, a controversial system for the protection of privacy.
Protecting the confidentiality of people’s information, however, may be more difficult with AI and other advances in computing becoming more accessible to bad actors who may try to trace publicly available statistics back to an individual by cross-referencing sets of ‘ different data, says Stephen Parry, senior. statistical consultant at Cornell University who wrote about best practices for gender and gender data collection.
“I think the question about privacy is important, but I also wonder if people consider privacy as not as important as it was in the past because they are so used to giving up their privacy and showing on the media social aspects of their lives that previous generations did not,” adds Parry.
One of the guidelines for collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity which the Biden administration came out is to allow survey participants to choose whether or not to respond to those types of questions and “make an informed decision about whether to provide this information based on its intended uses, potential risks, and their privacy preferences.”
“I think giving people an opportunity to offer that information is important,” says Rebecca Moon, president of the Shoals Diversity Centera nonprofit organization based in Florence, Ala., that offers mental health support for the LGBTQ community and supports increased government data collection. “Not everyone is out, especially in the South. There’s a lot of LGBTQ hate.”
Caballero of the National Center for Transgender Equality says it’s a “very scary time” for many transgender people living in the United States who don’t feel comfortable reporting your gender identity to the government is “valid a lot.”
But, Caballero adds, those who choose to be counted as transgender for the census, if ever given the chance, make it “easier for the next trans person to tell their story and say they’re here.”
“You can’t argue with the fact that hundreds of thousands of trans people could say in a quantitative and scientific way that we exist and this is what it looks like to live here,” says Caballero. “And if we didn’t have that data, it would be extremely difficult to prove that we deserved human rights.”
Edited by Benjamin Swasey