Trump Administration Axes LGBTQ Count From Census, Clearly Fears Learning That Everyone Is Gay

It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? That one, brief shimmering moment in time when the government was mildly interested in finding out how many LGBTQ people live in this burning hellfire of a country. When we counted, literally.

That moment is over.

From The National LGBTQ Task Force:

In this morning’s version of the Administration’s report, while it conspicuously excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) people on the list of “planned subjects” for the nation’s decennial census and longer form survey, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” were included as “proposed” subjects in the appendix—indicating that data collection on these categories may have been in the works in an earlier version.

Including sexual orientation and gender identity on the 2020 Decennial Census Program would have been a major game-changer, providing an official count through both a “short-form only” census and the American Community Survey, which collects more detailed long-form data on a monthly basis. This has an enormous impact on the well-being of our community, as indicated in this statement from Meghan Maury, the Criminal and Economic Justice Project Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force:

Today, the Trump Administration has taken yet another step to deny LGBTQ people freedom, justice, and equity, by choosing to exclude us from the 2020 Census and American Community Survey. LGBTQ people are not counted on the Census—no data is collected on sexual orientation or gender identity. Information from these surveys helps the government to enforce federal laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act and to determine how to allocate resources like housing supports and food stamps. If the government doesn’t know how many LGBTQ people live in a community, how can it do its job to ensure we’re getting fair and adequate access to the rights, protections and services we need? We call on President Trump and his Administration to begin collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data on the American Community Survey as soon as possible and urge Congress to conduct oversight hearings to reveal why the Administration made the last-minute decision not to collect data on LGBTQ people.”

Way back in 2016, United States Chief Statistician Katherine Wallman told Time Magazine she was “leading the federal government’s working group on how to best gather data about sexual orientation and gender identity.” In April 2016, a bipartisan group had called on the government to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the Census, but at that time there were no plans to do so.

Up to this point, the best numbers we’ve gotten on LGBTQ community size have been through the Census’s cumbersome method of approximating numbers of same-sex couples through answers to questions about gender and relationships to other household members, and subsequent careful analysis of that data by The Williams Institute. (Basically everything we know about LGBTQ population size comes from The Williams Institute.)

The Census has been working to more accurately count same-sex couples, and as of 2014 was “testing new marriage and relationship questions on its surveys in hopes of producing more accurate numbers in the next few years.” This was to combat the apparently widespread problem of people checking the wrong gender box when answering questions about household members and other collection issues. Here’s one revision they were playing with:

The bureau was hoping to implement its revised relationship question on the 2020 Census, which could still happen — but that will ultimately require approval from the Office of Management and Budget. The current head of the OMB is Mick Mulvaney, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, who is generally full of shit. He co-sponsored South Carolina legislation to define marriage as being between one man and one woman as well as the First Amendment Defense Act, which would undermine anti-discrimination protections for same-sex married couples. The Census Bureau, like many other Bureaus these days, isn’t sure how much funding they’ll be getting from Congress in the ensuing years to do things like trial test its methods or execute follow-up visits to non-responsive people. There are already concerns about the accuracy of the 2020 counts in light of Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

Data collected by social scientists reveal widely disparate potential answers to the “how many gay people exist” question, a saga of confusion and sadness we’ve been following closely for the last nine years. (Not having these numbers is especially vexing to journalists!) One recent survey of young people has revealed that a majority of 13-to-20 year olds do not identify as exclusively heterosexual, which is bananas and supports our sneaking suspicion that there are tons of gay people out there and therefore everybody should care more about us. Furthermore, data on same-sex couples clearly does absolutely nothing to help us get better data on how many transgender people exist. This would be really great to know because the transgender community faces astronomical rates of poverty, victimization, abuse, homelessness, suicidality and depression, and therefore is in especially desperate need of services and programs that often rely on federal government funding. From Time Magazine:

…the true scope of [outsized hardships faced by LGBT people] can only be fleshed out by large-scale data collection—and such information will make it a lot easier to get the resources needed to fix problems like the extremely high rates of poverty experienced by transgender people and gaps in parental rights affecting gay couples with children, particularly if the numbers have the authority of being produced by the government itself.

This news comes shortly after last week’s big news that the Department of Health & Human Services is planning to eliminate questions about sexual orientation from its National Survey of Older Americans. (One of our Senior Editors, Heather Hogan, has been working on a story about this that we’ll be publishing next week.)

Although I cannot find independent verification of this, the pro-Trump propaganda machine The Washington Times (which I refuse to link to, but here’s a screenshot) claims a Census Bureau spokesman had determined there was “no federal need” for collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity. In an alleged statement, said spokesman said:

“The Subjects Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey report released today 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.”

This will be good news for the readers of The Washington Times, who earlier today were very concerned about Uncle Sam “prodding” you for this information.

This will be bad news for… everybody here.

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2685 articles for us.

21 Comments

    • I know what you mean but this data is really important to have as noted in the article. Also if they do decide to round us up at some point … the bastards will find a way … as will we to stuff their ambitions.

    • You are not the only one thinking this. Census can be good or bad depending upon the hands in which that information falls. I personally don’t want/need anyone in my bedroom but me and my parter.

  1. Thanks for this great reporting – it’s better than that in any of your sources today! Thanks especially for enumerating the different types of surveys that the Census Bureau fields, and how each will be affected by the hiring freeze and the push for fake data/ fudged numbers.

    Like many others, I rely on public use microdata a lot at work, and today I found out that the NIH collects this data (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/sexual_orientation/questionnaire.htm). The Williams Institute (mentioned in the article) also uses this data for its reports.

    I wish that fighting back were as simple as donating to our favorite data scientists, like we do for non-profits, but without reliable raw data our work is going to be for nothing. If you are also a nerd and interested in going down a data vortex, you can query your own user-friendly microdata files at one of these sites such as IPUMS.org. Here is an article from them that goes more in-depth about the future of public data: http://blog.popdata.org/amid-uncertainty-for-federal-statistics-collection-daily-use-increases/

  2. Oh America, I’m so sorry about this. Canada has literally JUST gotten past a similar hurdle as enacted by the Conservative Harper government, who got rid of the long form census (and so many other things) in wild acts of anti-science and anti-data collection. When Trudeau and the Liberals came into power in the fall of 2015, one of the first things they did was reinstate the long form census, and the 2016 census was RECORD BREAKING. The entire country was NERDING OUT about the census for weeks.

    I don’t say this to brag or make you all feel bad, just the opposite. We had NINE YEARS of Harper. And then we got the census back. I know it does nothing to help in the meantime, and it is so awful that all that data will be lost to the ether forever. But you WILL get this back.

    And in the meantime, I guess everyone should go donate some money to The Williams Institute?

    • Hahaha. I remember hearing Canadians excitedly flipping out about the census but I never heard the background context! (I live in the US very close to Canada, although I guess physical location is irrelevant for things like this now because internet.)

  3. Wow. This is the political equivalent to sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling “NANANANA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

    Ignoring something you don’t like does not make it cease to exist (see also: climate change). Maybe Trump is afraid of what Putin will think? Since there are of course no gays in Russia…

    As a side note- I refuse to believe that everyone is a little bit gay, because that would also mean that everyone is a little bit straight, and I tell you what, sister, it just ain’t so.

  4. I logged out to write this. I work on the Australian Census and know how frustrating and hard these changes are first hand. National statistical organisations are very conservative by nature so getting any sort of sexual or gender identity questions in at all is a huge challenge.

    Internationally there has been a huge push for these inclusions so it’s a big step backwards for the US.

    The 2016 Australian Census included the option of an “other” sex on the form however a special login code had to be requested which adds an additional barrier to someone wanting to complete it. They may not know it existed or not be out/safe with friends and family. There was concern that people would mark “other” for funsies because apparently people can’t be trusted not to answer “Sex: yes please” after the age of 15.

    I know the US Census is comparatively very expensive to run but there are very good reasons for that. Census’ are hugely complex as it is and the US population distribution, ethnic diversity make it the most complex in the world. Adding one question to a Census can cost a million dollars (AUD). BUT this is why it’s so important to invest in the Census, and $1 million is nothing then Trump is taking golf trips costing more every weekend.

    The ABS takes privacy incredibly seriously. Legislation dictates that no other government departments are allowed to disseminate Census data. Having said that, acts of parliament change all the time. It worries the hell out of me. Census data was used by the nazis to locate Jewish people and by the US government to put Japanese Americans in internment camps. Australia has a sketchy history of counting (or not) our Indigenous population. So even though in theory the data is in safe hands nothing exists in a vacuum and I feel like the worst case scenario could plausibly happen. I was a bit nervous filling out the Australian census in 2016 after the fiasco on Census day even though I work there.

    Big rant over. It’s just these things scare the crap out of me and annoy me so much. You can’t just exclude a few questions and contain the gay. We aren’t going anywhere.

  5. Orientation and gender really shouldn’t be on the census, though. The census is very easily linked to a person’s identity details, and while it would be good for the government to know how many people are LGBTQ, it would be very, very bad for the government to have a record of which people are LGBTQ. Data should be collected, but there should be more precautions to preserve anonymity.

  6. I did a double-take when I read “National Survey of Older Americans. (One of our Senior Editors, Heather Hogan”… Heather Hogan isn’t that old. Oh maybe she’s just in charge of editing stories about older people? No, that’s actually not what “Senior Editor” means in this context AT ALL.

  7. on the one hand, i get why people would want the info for social science reasons. on the other, maybe i’m just a paranoid jew but i don’t think i want the government to know that kind of personal stuff (and be able to find us so easily!). of course, they could also easily check marriage records, but still…

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