If you haven’t taken a moment to think about the 2020 U.S. Census, you should, especially today on Census Day. An accurate Census count is important for every American. For historically marginalized populations – like LGBTQ folks, people of color, immigrants, and women – it’s absolutely critical that we count everyone.
Do you want anti-LGBTQ politicians to gain more power? Neither do I, so let’s talk about how the Census impacts our community.
The Census is only taken once every 10 years, so the impact of an inaccurate count will last. An under-count could starve our communities of much-needed funding and shift political representation in ways that negatively impact LGBTQ people.
Census data is used for everything from deciding how Congressional districts are drawn to how much money gets allocated for government programs where you live. LGBTQ people use the programs whose funding is based on Census data – like SNAP benefits (food stamps), housing assistance, and Medicaid – at higher rates than the general public. For example, nearly 21% of LGBTQ households depend on Medicaid, whereas only 13% of non-LGBTQ households use the program.
While the Census doesn’t ask about sexual orientation explicitly, the Census Bureau has expanded the options for identifying your relationship in the 2020 survey. This year, couples of the same gender will have the option to choose “same-sex married couple” or “same-sex unmarried couple” to identify their relationships. While not ideal, it’s a step forward from 2010, when only “same-sex married couple” was an option.
Any advance in government data collection about our community is a positive step, even though these options leave out a lot of LGBTQ folks. Because the Census doesn’t specifically ask for anyone’s sexual orientation, bisexual people could be erased because people who will use the data may assume that same-sex couples involve only gay people and opposite-sex couples are made up of two straight people.
And couples who don’t live together won’t be counted at all.
Additionally, each person is asked to designate their sex and the options are only “male” and “female,” which excludes many transgender, intersex, and non-binary folks. While that’s frustrating, it’s better to choose the option that feels the most comfortable to you, instead of leaving the question unanswered. Otherwise, the Census Bureau could just answer the question for you.
Just remember, they’re not going to cross-check Census responses with other government data, so your answer doesn’t have to match your identity documents. Furthermore, your individual Census answers are protected under federal law and cannot be used by any government agency in any way.
Despite its imperfections, the Census is simply too important to brush aside. So please take a few minutes and go to my2020census.gov and fill out yours right now. It’s quick – I filled out mine in less than 10 minutes – and it’s really simple. And if you do have any questions, Pride at Work’s 2020 Census FAQ for Queer Working People is a great resource for LGBTQ-specific concerns.
Stay safe and wash your hands!