Trump administration erases LGBT people from survey of older adults

Without data, there’s no way to address discrimination LGBT people might be experiencing.

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The Trump administration’s gradual erasure of LGBT people from the work of the federal government is still underway. This week, the Department of Health and Human Services arbitrarily decided to just stop counting LGBT people in two critical surveys, eliminating vital data collection that could be used to help address the health disparities that LGBT people are known to experience.

The Center for American Progress noticed two different surveys were no longer going to ask participants whether they identify as LGBT: The National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants and the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living. The former is an annual national survey governed by the Older Americans Act (OAA) that ensures that older adults have the social support they need in life, such as access to food, transportation, and caregiver support. The latter evaluates services that help people with disabilities to live independently. LGBT members of both of these communities have been shown to experience increased rates of discrimination , which creates a barrier to accessing these crucial services.

The notice announcing the 2017 draft of the OAA survey notably described the survey as having “no changes,” despite the fact that the question inviting participants to identify as LGBT was cut. This constitutes a blatant lie by the administration.

And the lying didn’t stop there. The AP reported on the survey change and spoke to Kelly Mack, a spokeswoman for the Administration for Community Living (ACL), which oversees the two surveys. She said that the LGBT question was included in the past as a “pilot,” but that the sample size was too small to draw reliable conclusions. This, however, is directly contradicted by a note still included on the ACL’s page containing the results of past surveys. That note assures that despite the small sample size on the sexual orientation question, “ACL is working to refine these questions (with other experts in the field), adjust the sample size, and obtain an acceptable level of standard error measurement.”

In other words, ACL was previously committed to improving the sexual orientation question, but now it’s just dropping it entirely.

Mack also told the AP that the sexual orientation question was only one of several being eliminated from the survey that was billed as having “no changes.” Pressed to identify others, she noted only one, which asks respondents to confirm that the birthdate the agency has for their caregiver is correct. It‘s not clear if that cut includes its follow-up question, which just blatantly asks for their caregiver’s birthdate. But regardless, that appears to have been yet another lie.

The publicly posted version of the survey draft, as of Tuesday morning, still includes this other question that Mack told the AP on Monday had been cut.

An anonymous administration official confirmed to the AP that the agency targeted LGBT questions in the surveys.

This is in keeping with the administration’s approach to LGBT issues: Shortly after President Trump took the oath of office, the White House eliminated a page dedicated to LGBT rights. The AP also notes that a separate survey planned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assess an LGBT homelessness project was withdrawn entirely. These changes are in addition to the Department of Education withdrawing its guidance protecting transgender students and the Department of Justice backing away from its fight against North Carolina’s anti-transgender law HB2.

Slowly but surely, the Trump administration is eliminating the federal government’s roles in protecting LGBT people from discrimination.