LGBT census outreach launches
by Matthew S. Bajko
Efforts to educate LGBT people on how to fill out the 2010 census forms are kicking into overdrive in the Bay Area, with a meeting today, Thursday, October 22 in San Francisco with leaders of various organizations aimed at mapping out how to outreach to the local community.
The U.S. Census Bureau has stationed two LGBT partnership specialists in northern California – one in its San Jose office and a second in San Francisco – to help coordinate the outreach to LGBT residents. They have been talking to local people since June when they took part in San Francisco's Pride celebration and have also had booths at the Folsom and Castro Street fairs.
Their main aim is to answer questions people have about the information collected on the forms. Similar to the 2000 census, next year's count will allow couples to mark whether they are husband or wife or unmarried partners. For same-sex couples the choices can be confusing, since LGBT people may consider themselves married even though their relationship is not legally recognized.
"The most important thing we are trying to get across to folks is they need to self identify however they see themselves," said Ray Mueller, the census's LGBT specialist stationed in the South Bay.
Deciding which category to choose is not determinate on if a same-sex couple is registered with a government agency but how that couple defines its relationship. Mueller, who is gay, said he and his partner would select unmarried partners on their form since they have never had a wedding ceremony.
But other couples that are domestic partners or in civil unions – but consider themselves to be married – can opt for the husband and wife categories, he said.
Census officials and demographers stress that the census is not counting legally married couples in the United States. Rather the forms will tabulate the number of same-sex partnerships in the country.
"There are way more same-sex couples who use the terms husband and wife than are legally married in the U.S. You should not interpret the counts of same-sex spousal couples as a count of how many same-sex couples are legally married in the U.S.," said Gary Gates, an LGBT demographer at the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.
The 2000 census counted 150,000 same-sex couples in America, yet as of 2008 only 35,000 were legally married, pointed out Gates, since the majority live in states with bans on same-sex marriage. For now only five states allow same-sex couples to legally marry, and there are 18,000 couples that married last year in California with legally recognized marriages.
"It may be a little more today with Iowa but it is still no where close to 150,000 at this point," said Gates, referring to the fact the Iowa began marrying LGBT couples this year.
Gates, who will take part in Thursday's meeting, said it is important that LGBT people fill out their census forms so that there is as accurate as possible a federal count of same-sex couples.
"We don't do a great job yet of counting same-sex couples so getting a more accurate count is important. It is used in every public policy debate around LGBT people," he said. "It is used to say how many people are gay in the military and how many are parents, adoptive parents, or raising foster kids. All these data points have been important in the debates around LGBT rights."
The roundtable discussion will take place today from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street.