Political Notes: Congressmembers call for LGBTQ update to 2030 census

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday December 19, 2022
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The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its report on the number of same-sex couples in 2021, finding that it exceeded one million. Photo: Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its report on the number of same-sex couples in 2021, finding that it exceeded one million. Photo: Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau

Congressional leaders are calling on the U.S. Census Bureau to finally begin asking Americans about their sexual orientation and gender identity. They want to see the SOGI questions added to the 2030 census forms.

LGBTQ advocates have been demanding such inclusion of the SOGI questions for decades, arguing that the lack of concrete information about the number of LGBTQ Americans hinders efforts across government at the local, state, and federal levels to address the needs of the LGBTQ community. As the Bay Area Reporter has reported over the years, even when state leaders push for the collection of SOGI data in their states, such as in California, those efforts are hindered by outdated survey platforms and other technical glitches.

Thus, there has long been a clamor to see the census collect SOGI data in order to have as clear a picture of America's LGBTQ population as can be determined. Having such census data would provide invaluable information on everything from where LGBTQ Americans reside, a sharper demographic picture of the makeup of the LGBTQ community, and could pinpoint where services and programs directed at LGBTQ people are lacking.

"Lawmakers and agencies need more comprehensive data to craft better policies to remedy and address the disparities faced by LGBTQI+ individuals — particularly people of color — to ensure their needs are met," stated Congressmember Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona). "I join my colleagues in urging the Biden administration and Census Bureau to expand their efforts to include the LGTBQI+ community in future censuses and guarantee that LGBTQI+ people are heard, seen and counted."

During the Obama administration, there was an effort to see the SOGI questions added to the 2020 census form. But the Trump administration opposed such a change, and census officials dropped their evaluation on whether to inquire about people's LGBTQ identities.

While the 2020 census omitted the SOGI questions, it did include updated questions asking about same-sex households. The question asking how people living in the same household were related included the options "same-sex husband/wife/spouse" or "same-sex unmarried partner." In 2010, the options on the census form were the generic terms "husband or wife" or "unmarried partner."

The census bureau recently released the responses to that question on the 2020 census form. It found there to be 1.2 million same-sex couple households in the United States, the first time the demographic data had exceeded a million.

Of those same-sex households, roughly 710,000 were married and about 500,000 were unmarried. The census data also found that a larger share of same-sex (31.6%) than opposite-sex (18.4%) married couples were interracial.

Better data needed

The census bureau also released a package of tables and graphics about the characteristics of same-sex couple households based on American Community Survey data. The information is based on data from 2005 through 2021 and its release was delayed a year due to the impact of COVID-19 on collecting data for the survey.

With work now underway to develop the 2030 census forms, and possibly update them with new questions, congressional leaders are calling on the census bureau "to engage in research, testing, and development to explicitly include the LGBTQI+ community in the 2030 decennial Census." They did so in a letter sent in mid-November spearheaded by Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus Chair David N. Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), a gay man who serves in the House, and his House colleagues Grijalva and Congressmember Katie Porter (D-California).

The letter, signed by 50 members of Congress, follows the passage in the House last June, during Pride Month, of House Resolution 4176, the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act, which would require federal surveys to collect voluntary information on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics. Although it has not been taken up by the Senate, the Equality Caucus members noted that census officials do not need it be approved in order for them to take action in regard to adding SOGI questions to the 2030 census.

"Better data leads to better policy, and with more information about the LGBTQI+ Community, we can better draft policies and allocate resources to meet their needs," stated Cicilline. "As the number of openly LGBTQI+ people in this country continues to grow, their voices deserve to be heard. Collecting this data will provide us with a more comprehensive picture of the experiences and challenges of LGBTQI+ people, allow us to do intersectional analyses of the disparities faced across the LGBTQI+ community, and ensure we can better tailor policy solutions to meet their needs."

Porter added that in order "to protect and support the LGBTQI+ community, we need to see the LGBTQI+ community."

Having served on the House Oversight Committee, Porter noted that she knows "a complete and accurate census is essential for governments, businesses, and community organizations to serve the American people. I'm proud to help spearhead this effort that will help connect LGBTQI+ Americans to the resources they need."

In response to questions from the B.A.R. regarding the renewed call to see the census ask the SOGI questions, a spokesperson for the federal agency explained that its request for feedback it had issued in August was focused on the design of the 2030 census form and not on what questions it should include. It use of the word "design" related to strategies the census could use to ensure it doesn't undercount people of color, youth, and other hard to reach groups as occurred with the 2020 census.

"We specifically are interested in strategies that may improve or enhance the way people respond to the 2030 Census on their own," explained census officials on the webpage explaining what information they were seeking from the public and other interested parties.

Nonetheless, the request for feedback generated "many comments pertaining to questionnaire content" by the November 15 deadline to submit responses, according to the agency spokesperson.

Asked how many responses related to SOGI questions, the spokesperson replied that the agency is "currently reviewing all comments" and plans to issue a detailed report about them sometime in 2023.

The agency has not made any decisions at this point in regard to adding SOGI questions to the 2030 census form. According to a preliminary timeline graphic it posted, the agency will be working through 2024 on the design phase for the next census then finalize and conduct test on its planned design from 2025 to 2027.

It then expects to finalize the census content in 2028 through 2030. The next Census Day is slated for April 1, 2030.

"The Census Bureau is still in the very early stages of planning the 2030 Census. Because the Decennial Census Program is comprised of both the decennial census and the American Community Survey, content research and decisions impact both programs," stated the agency in its emailed reply to the B.A.R. "For all Decennial Census Program content decisions, the Census Bureau, in consultation with other federal agencies, Congress, and the public, will weigh data requirements carefully with the burden placed on the American public associated with responding to the census and the American Community Survey."

It stressed that, "at this time, no decisions have been made about what content will be included on the 2030 Census. This includes questions about sexual orientation and gender identity."

Due to the holidays the Political Notes column is taking a hiatus. It will return Monday, January 9.

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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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