On Wednesday, Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) reintroduced the LGBT Data Inclusion Act, which would require federal surveys to include gender identity and sexual orientation to better address LGBTQ people’s needs.
The legislation also requires that agencies publishing reports on survey demographic data include information on sexual orientation and gender identity. The changes would go a long way in helping the LGBTQ community receive more funding and better policies and programs to mitigate economic disparities.
A number of lawmakers spoke about the importance of collecting this data at a press conference on Wednesday, including Baldwin and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Katie Hill (D-CA).
Baldwin said that despite recent advances made in counting LGBTQ people, it is critical that the Census achieves more.
“Transgender people are at greater risk of being victimized by violence and experience significant health disparities and being vulnerable to poverty. While the Census took a very important step forward in 2013 by including the marital status of same-sex couples as part of the [American Community Survey] data on the families, the fact is that we know little else about the social and economic circumstances of LGBTQ population at large,” she said.
“Expanded data collection on LGBTQ people will help policymakers and community stakeholders understand the full extent of these disparities and help identify needs of these communities so that they can be better served. It is also crucial to our ability to respond with effective policy solutions that address the unique needs of vulnerable populations.”
Harper Jean Tobin, policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, and Laura Durso, vice president of the LGBT research and communications project at the Center for American Progress, were also present in support of the legislation. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent newsroom housed at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)
The Trump administration pumped the breaks on data collection for LGBTQ people shortly after the president took office.
In March 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau removed questions on gender identity and sexual orientation from its list of questions for the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey, as had been proposed by the Obama administration. The Justice Department sent the Census Bureau a letter stating that queer people would not be included in the American Community Survey, which is sent to 3.5 million households and helps determine how billions in federal funding is distributed. The department wrote in 2017 that the Obama administration’s request to count LGBTQ people “requires thorough analysis and careful consideration.”
Instead of simply asking for sexual orientation, couples living together will reportedly be able to identify their relationships as same-sex or opposite-sex, which is limited in a variety of ways. It doesn’t acknowledge people who identify as nonbinary, erases many bisexual people, and excludes single people and people not living with their significant other. There also is no way for transgender people to indicate that they are transgender.
Hill, who is the only openly bisexual person serving the House of Representatives, said on Wednesday that she supports the legislation because she knows how important it is for LGBTQ people to have visibility.
“Throughout my run, I got so many questions about why I chose to be honest about my sexuality especially when I was married to a man and from a purple district … Needless to say everyone thought it would have been easier to hide who I am. But the reality is that representation matters, especially for the LGBTQ community when so many of our basic rights are still at risk.”
Despite the setbacks, the National LGBTQ Task Force is still pushing LGBTQ people to fill out their 2020 Census forms.
“Although the Census doesn’t explicitly ask about our sexual orientation and gender identity, it is still critical for us to be counted on the 2020 Census,” the organization said in a statement to media. “We need to be counted so our communities can: Get access to federal funds for programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and public housing; have representation in our state, local, and federal government; and enforce our civil rights.”
LGBTQ people experience heightened economic barriers, according to a 2018 report, from the LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative, which includes the Trans Women of Color Collective, Center for American Progress, and National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Dr. Lourdes Ashley Hunter explained in the report that “transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary Black and Brown people are disproportionately affected by high rates of homelessness, trauma, criminalization, under-employment, and incarceration, which are inextricably linked to chronic poverty and reinforced by state-sanctioned violence.”
In March 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also proposed taking older LGBTQ people out of national surveys, including the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants. But there are health disparities between LGBTQ seniors and straight and cis seniors, which is why information about elder LGBTQ people is important to molding policies to improve their lives. There is still not enough information about older LGBTQ Americans’ health disparities or how best to serve them. This is a particularly urgent health matter as it relates to LGBTQ seniors’ risk for HIV transmission.
There are other ways the White House has continued to erase LGBTQ people, such as removing guidance on protecting transgender people in the workforce from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the office that oversees all federal employees. The White House’s LGBTQ rights website was removed early in the administration. And there was a “general reduction” of LGBTQ content from the Health, Labor, Education, and Housing Departments, Rachel Bergman, co-director of the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project, told The Daily Beast last year.
In addition to this removal of LGBTQ content on government websites, the administration has taken a number of other steps to undermine LGBTQ people’s rights. The administration has argued for a definition of sex in federal civil rights laws that would get rid of any and all protections for transgender people. The departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor have all announced initiatives that focus on religious freedom, which many LGBTQ advocates and reproductive rights groups say is a just another path to enable discrimination against LGBTQ people and people who can get pregnant. The Justice Department and Education Department rolled back guidance on transgender people’s access to bathrooms and other facilities.
At the same time, Republicans in the House and Senate have continued to oppose efforts to advance LGBTQ rights. In May, 173 Republicans voted against the Equality Act, a sweeping nondiscrimination bill for LGBTQ people. During a hearing on the bill, Republicans claimed that rights for transgender women would result in cis men trying to “game the system” to benefit from women-focused initiatives and compared a queer couple trying to access health care to a Jewish doctor being asked to treat a Nazi patient. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not plan to bring the Equality Act to the Senate floor. A senior Trump administration official said that President Donald Trump insists that he won’t support the Equality Act.