U.S. Census To Leave Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Questions Off New Surveys

Mar 29, 2017
Originally published on March 29, 2017 5:23 pm

The U.S. Census Bureau published a list on Tuesday of more than 50 planned topics of questions for the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey.

Hours after it first appeared online, one of those topics was removed from a revised report: sexual orientation and gender identity, which was listed as "proposed" on the second-to-last page of the original report.

In a written statement, a Census Bureau spokesperson says the report "inadvertently listed sexual orientation and gender identity as a proposed topic in the appendix. This topic is not being proposed to Congress for the 2020 Census or American Community Survey."

Questionnaires for the census and the American Community Survey have not asked for sexual orientation and gender identity before, although the bureau has collected information about same-sex couples based on answers to questions about a respondent's sex and relationship to other people in a household.

Many LGBT rights groups were disappointed to see the topic disappear from that list. Reliable data about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are hard to come by, and advocates say policymakers need that information to make informed decisions.

"We feel like it's a lost opportunity," says Meghan Maury, director of the Criminal and Economic Justice Project at the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Maury sees the Census Bureau's decision as part of a pattern of recent moves by the Trump administration to remove questions about sexual orientation from other surveys by federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, as the Associated Press recently reported.

The Census Bureau's director, John Thompson, published a blog post on Wednesday to explain why the bureau decided to not include questions about sexual orientation or gender identity in its upcoming surveys:

"In April 2016, more than 75 members of Congress wrote to the Census Bureau to request the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity as a subject for the American Community Survey. We carefully considered this thoughtful request and again worked with federal agencies and the [Office of Management and Budget] Interagency Working Group on Measuring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to determine if there was a legislative mandate to collect this data. Our review concluded there was no federal data need to change the planned census and [American Community Survey] subjects."

Still, Maury says she's not convinced that the appearance of "sexual orientation and gender identity" in Tuesday's report was just a typo. "Leaving something off of a list, that can be a typo. But this was added to a list for some reason," she says.

The Census Bureau is required by law to share a report of planned topics to Congress three years before the roll-out of a new census of every resident in the U.S. The report also includes subjects for questions in the American Community Survey, which is conducted every year with about 3 million households.

New questions are added more frequently to the American Community Survey than the census. Maury says that could give the bureau some leeway to start asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity without having to wait until the 2030 Census.

But she warns that even small delays in collecting this information can have large consequences, especially within the LGBT community.

"They're read by many people in our community as saying affirmatively that we don't count, that we don't matter," she says. "Decisions like this really contribute to that feeling that we're invisible."

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