Guest Blogger

Why not just ask about sexual orientation or gender identity in the Census?

Filed By Guest Blogger | February 05, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: bisexual, Census Bureau, gender identity, lesbian, polling, sexual orientation, survey, transgender, us, US Census

Editors' note: Ché Ruddell-Tabisola joined the U.S. Census Bureau in January to serve as national LGBT Partnership liaison and coordinate the work between the Our Families Count census public education campaign and nearly two dozen Census Partnership Specialists who work with LGBT Communities. Che has also managed Special Projects at the Human Rights Campaign.

ruddell-tabilosa.jpgThe 2010 Census is historic for LGBT communities. For the first time the census will count same-sex married couples, even if we live somewhere our relationship isn't recognized. It is also important to know that transgender respondents are counted as the gender with which they identify.

These remarkable qualities of the census, however, do not cancel the importance of the question I'm asked most: Why does the census not ask about sexual orientation or gender identity?

The answer is that the U.S. Congress - who is the ultimate authority over the census - has not called for those questions to be asked. Each question is on the form because a federal law requires that information to be gathered. There is no law that directs the census to ask for the collection of sexual orientation or gender identity.

People are usually disappointed with that answer. But I don't feel excluded from the census because it does not ask if I am LGBT. We have many identities, and most of them are not asked about in the census. I am several things: the son of immigrants, a spiritual person, a friend - as well as the husband to the most loving man in the world.

I am also a member of the community where I live, and I care about job training, senior citizen centers, public transportation, and that my neighbor's kid across the street goes to a good school.

My community depends on me to participate in the census, just like I depend on them to do the same. That's why I'll be participating in this historic census. I hope you will be too.

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I think a good question to ask those who think the Census should ask about sexual orientation is "What would the question be?" We all argue constantly about the words used to describe us, so I can't imagine anyone agreeing on how to state the actual question.

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | February 6, 2010 5:13 AM

Word the questions so that they avoid controversial labels.

Sex at the time of birth:

Gender Identity:

Current Legal Sex:

Experience Sexual Attraction To:

There is no way in hell I would fill that out... ever.

Nobody can list attraction to the "other" gender, eh? That's pretty telling. I'm with ginasf on this one.

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | February 7, 2010 6:00 AM

Okay so...

Sexual attraction to: (check all that apply)


Believe it or not, there are lots of trans-identified people who don't want to identify themselves as transgender on the census. Don't equate the LGB community's interest in self-identifying with people who transition... we have a very different relationship with our "labels" and communities. Nor am I at all convinced the census information is actually secure and private.

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | February 7, 2010 6:09 AM

I don't understand how we can be represented when we're not counted.

Nice catch-22. To help "prove the need" for employment and housing protections an accurate count is needed, yet without the pittance of safety that ENDA would provide (and given the question of data security as ginasf stated, as well as an ignorant and bigoted society), many transsexuals would be reluctant to identify themselves as such. Not to mention those with a basic philosophical issue with the label!

Which brings up an even larger problem:

The root of the problem with this new data collection is revealed by this statement:

"It is also important to know that transgender respondents are counted as the gender with which they identify. "

This reveals a basic ignorance of the meaning of the word on the part of the people that are supposed to be gathering and tabulating accurate data. How exactly is the census going to differentiate between a male-identified, male bodied crossdresser that checks the "Male" and "Transgender" boxes from a post-transition trans Man? (Answer: it won't).

While I still strongly feel that for political and social battles the umbrella term for all gender-expectation transgressors is crucial to changing our society and laws, this is not a direct political battle, it is about collecting accurate data. Regardless of how that data may later be used, accuracy is imperative, and this ain't the way to get it.

Worse still, it will be *assumed* that it is accurate, making already vulnerable groups even more invisible in questions of equality and acceptance.

The original post is a bit confusing, but just to clarify there's no question on the census asking if someone is transgender. So there's no potential problem between distinguishing between the people in your example because there will be no way to identify trans people period using the census data. Which, of course, makes Ruddell-Tabisola's statement that "transgender respondents are counted as the gender with which they identify" a bit absurd--there's no way the Census could do anything else.

To me the statement you mentioned and the very idea of an 'inclusive census' reveal a lack of understanding of the issues involved in counting a community the author appears to know very little about. But he doesn't seem to get that part.

I think I ran with the idea of an inclusive census because I found it a bit simple that the only reason for it not existing was "Because Congress said so" (or more accurately, didn't say so). There is a slight overtone of, "Hey, I'm covered with the recognition of same-sex marriages so it's good enough for me".

Angela Brightfeather | February 5, 2010 1:52 PM

I am against the census asking any questions about sexual orientation and/or gender identity because I can look up my relatives from Ireland on the census reports from there and the USA when they immigrated before 1900 all by myuself and see what I need to see about them. But I'm not so sure what politics is going to be in the USA in the next 110 years and I'm not so sure that sexual orientation and gender identity won't be considered the same as being Jewish was in Germany in 1940. One would hope that the country would change for the better by then as far as GLBT people are concerned, but there is always that nagging feeling of people like Sarah Palin and her future relatives being around still and even worse, having some power.

I think the big arguement would be the same as it always has been. Why don't the pollsters ask these kind of questions on exit polls that are taken after major elections? Now that would be interesting and you don't need to pass any legislation to do it. I would fully commit to admitting that I am GLBT on an exit poll and I think that there are reasons why they don't ask that question that screws a lot of things up when politico's are campaigning. I really feel that in order to be identified as a legitimate minority, Transgender people need to be seen voting in elections just like everyone else. Right now as in the past, they are minimalized and marginalized as a non-entity and without political views or worth, and that needs to change, simply because it is not true. This would also allow a large number of hetero Trans people to put a foot out of the closet for once and add a lot to the GLBT numbers, which would be a good thing for everyone.

why would any queer or trans person want the federal government to know where you live...?!?!?! you know, there isn't exactly a great track record that precedes them. likely it will be used to track each fag, dyke and tranny down so they can drown us in a bath tub out back...

seriously. lets know this "inclusion at any cost" bullshit off, stat. it's ahistorical and idiotic!

battybattybats battybattybats | February 5, 2010 10:15 PM

" I am several things: the son of immigrants, a spiritual person, a friend - as well as the husband to the most loving man in the world. "

I don't know about the United States but the spirituality bit.. well religion is asked about on Australian Census.

Also crucially there have been occassions where a double-standard has occurred where the government has refused to make some forms of legislation addressing TBLG issues because they say they haven't the statistical data to analyse the problem and yet refuse to use the census to obtain the information. With that information econimic-impact modelling could be done on discrimination issues, on marriage etc. But instead the sample-stats we have often get dismissed for not being sufficient. Yet they refuse to ask in the census.

As for me I'm going with

Screw the census! My new motto (and I hope other's run with it as well) "Until I count, you won't get to count me)

Since I was a teenager I have felt like a second or third class citizen in a country that my ancestors founded.

I was against an illegal and immoral war in the 60's and actively opposed it. They tried to draft me (involuntary servitude)
I am a lifelong Pagan. Most of my life I hid that fact out of pure safety I'm in the middle of a legal battle so our religious group can simply get the same treatment a damn Baptist gets!
I was born intersexed and assigned male at birth. Changing my own body to match who I am was a nightmare and I was even told by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission that I had zero, zip, nada civil rights because of that. Several times.

As a woman, I live in a country that still will not adopt the Equal Rights Amendment...

As a bisexual, I apparently don't even exist to the LG community, let alone the larger world.

Shall I go on? No rights, not counting?...they don't get to count me.

Frankly I feel this is exactly how everyone who has spent a lifetime feeling disenfranchised by the system should respond....civil disobedience on an intrusion on privacy by a government that still actively spies on us all.

I don't understand how not participating in the Census helps anyone, unless you think you live in an area with a bunch of people who you disagree with politically and you want to deny your area political representation.

Most people live near people who are similar to themselves politically, so all refusing to participate in the Census accomplishes is denying people with your views your proper representation in all levels of government.

I agree, screw the census! I'm not participating in anything that will detransition me against my will and count me as male or do similarly hateful and bigoted things to the personal identities and relationships of my friends.

If the census does not provide me with a way to accurately represent myself on it, it will go where it belongs, in the circular file.

Forgive me for not knowing, but are names associated with the Census?

Becky~ If it asks "Sex," wouldn't you just tick off "Woman"? I don't think the census check sex against any ID.

Alex, names are associated with the census, but are not available to anyone (government or private researchers) until the census records become public after 80 or 100 years (I don't remember which). You also can't get other data for an individual address--all you can access is data aggregated on the block, block group, or tract level, depending on the information,

Honestly, I do not know why it is even necessary to have a national LGBT Partnership liaison working for the U.S. Census Bureau.

Does the U.S. Census Bureau think we need to be reminded with a different or special effort to participate in the census? Do we lack the capability to know this on our own?

While I can certainly see merit in the idea of getting an accurate count of Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans persons, I doubt that a count that is associated with a name and address would be even remotely accurate. For some time now I have concluded for example that the "Transgendered" group is far larger in number than most might realize, if we were to count all who fall into the wider definition of that term. However due to the implications for many who do fall under that designation in coming forward the likelihood of an accurate count seems unlikely. Both those who are deeply in stealth because they have transitioned and those who hide the fact they are Trans would be unlikely to "out" themselves in such a way. The same is true for Gay and Lesbian people as I would dare say many also fall into what we all have come to term "in the closet". Still some may not even accept that they fall into a given group to themselves. It may make take years of battling within themselves to accept the truth and become courageous enough to act upon it. So the entire premise that the Census can count LGBT people is flawed before it starts. If we lived in a Country which protected the rights and did not have the social implications associated with being identified as Gay or Lesbian, or Transgendered, it might be possible to glean an accurate result. However as things stand right now, many who should be counted if it were decided to include LGBT persons in a Census would not provide anything other than the answer to hide that fact. So the entire premise is not going to work until there are no social or civil downsides to coming forward with that information. As to how soon that will happen is anyone's guess, but I do know for many the implications of being found out far outweigh the benefit from providing an answer to such a question. From what I can see in connection to my own observations, the ratio of those who are fully out as opposed to those who are fairly well closeted is something around one in five. While it would be great of that type of number could be reflected to Congress as it might make them more receptive to making sure we have the same rights as others, until we get some of those very protections many will not come forward to be identified by such means.