In-Depth: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to require federal surveys to include data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity on a voluntary basis, ensuring lawmakers and agencies have robust information to adequately address LGBTQ issues:
“Despite the growing number of Americans who recognize that their LGBTQ family members, friends and neighbors deserve to be treated like everyone else in the United States, LGBTQ Americans still face discrimination in many facets of everyday life such as employment, housing and even in the justice system. The LGBTQ Data Inclusion Act will help ensure that policy makers and community leaders have the information they need to help better understand the full extent of such discrimination and better serve the communities they represent. This bicameral legislation will be a step forward in the march for fairness, freedom and full equality.”
House sponsor Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) says:
“As we celebrate Pride Month, it’s critical that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are visible and counted in all federal surveys—including the U.S. Census. Without a clear knowledge of the size and needs of the LGBTQ community, its members remain marginalized and left out of many critical policy making decisions. This legislation remedies this in a voluntary and confidential way and ensures that lawmakers have the information we need to serve our LGBTQ constituents.”
Prior to introducing this bill in 2017, Sen. Baldwin and Rep. Grijalva joined Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in leading 86 members of Congress in sending a bicameral letter to U.S. Census Bureau Director John Thompson and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney expressing strong disapproval of the Census Bureau’s decision to remove data collection on LGBT individuals for consideration for the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey (ACS). In their letter, the lawmakers noted the need for accurate sexual orientation and gender identity data for legislative purposes:
“A number of pieces of federal legislation passed by Congress, implicitly or explicitly, include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Countless programs implemented under these, and other laws, serve LGBT people; some to a distinctly disproportionate extent. There is no doubt that there is both a statutory benefit and a programmatic need to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data if we want federal agencies to undertake their work in the most efficient and effective manner possible.”
The Center for American Progress (CAP) supports this bill. Dr. Laura E. Durso, Vice President of LGBT Research and Communications Project at CAP, says:
“At a time when attempts by the Trump-Pence Administration to roll back progress on LGBTQ civil rights may cause people to go back in the closet out of fear of discrimination, the power that data have to make our experiences and needs visible becomes even more valuable. The LGBTQ Data Inclusion Act is a smart and comprehensive way to ensure that federal agencies recognize LGBTQ communities and develop policies and programs that serve everyone effectively. The health and security of LGBTQ people nationwide depends on the information that this bill can provide.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) notes, “Inclusive data collection policies are vital in order to understand and improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ Americans. While some federal data on LGBTQ communities is currently collected, there is no centralized requirement prioritizing the collection of LGBTQ data in federal surveys which this bill would address.”
Some data privacy experts worry that sexual orientation information collected in federal surveys, such as the census, could be used against LGBTQ people, especially in states that do not have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender equality.
Within the LGBTQ community itself, there remains debate over whether it’s better or worse for the community to be counted in official government census counts. Jane Ward, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of California, Riverside, describes the tension thusly:
“On the one hand, the mainstream gay and lesbian movement has always pushed for visibility, and a part of that is quantifying gay and lesbian identity. The logic there is that there’s safety in numbers and that the more of us who come out and get counted, the more legitimacy gay and lesbian people will have. This way of thinking has evolved past representation and into bio-essentialist claims that gay and lesbian people are born with homosexual constitutions that we can’t do anything about. As such, the mainstream gay and lesbian movement proposes that sexual orientation is immutable, and that there’s a large number of gay and lesbian Americans who should receive the same kinds of rights as other groups with ‘immutable differences,’ like race and gender, within the U.S. On the other hand, there’s a more queer perspective, which is weary of presuming that gay, lesbian, bi, trans people are discrete and bounded populations that you can easily count. As we become more attuned to sexual fluidity and the unpredictability of people’s sexual behaviors, presuming that we can count these identifications in a way that will tell us something meaningful is coming into question… So while I see the political efficacy of including sexual orientation on the census, which would certainly be useful for statistical claims related to inclusion and legitimacy, I also see why we might be less invested in quantifying queerness, too.”
This bill has 18 Democratic Senate cosponsors. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), has 86 Democratic House cosponsors. As of July 10, 2019, neither bill had received a committee vote. In the current Congress, it has the support of the Center for American Progress, GLSEN, Guttmacher Institute, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, NALEO Education Fund, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Transgender Equality, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, PFLAG, The Trevor Project, The Williams Institute, Third Way, Transgender Law Center, True Colors United, and the American Psychological Association.
Last Congress, this bill had 16 Democratic Senate cosponsors and didn’t receive a committee vote. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Grijalva, had 123 Democratic cosponsors and also didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: PLFAG notes that data collection about LGBTQ individuals is critical to understanding the issues they face. The organization notes that data from LGBTQ individuals is needed “in order to pinpoint the issues they face and come up with solutions.”
The Trump administration has made multiple efforts to stop collecting data on LGBTQ people. In March 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau removed questions on gender identity and sexual orientation (which had been proposed by the Obama administration) from its list of questions for the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey (ACS). The Justice Dept. sent the Census Bureau a letter stating that queer people wouldn’t be included in the ACS, writing that that Obama administration’s previous request to count LGBTQ people “requires thorough analysis and careful consideration.”
In the same month, the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) also proposed taking older LGBTQ people out of national surveys, including the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants. However, ThinkProgress notes that there are health disaparities between LGBTQ seniors and straight and cis seniors, which is why information about elder LGBTQ people is important for policymaking to improve their lives.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / numbeos)