Political Notes: Biden backs federal LGBTQ data collection bill

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday June 27, 2022
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President Joe Biden backs a federal LGBTQ data collection bill. Photo: Courtesy Washington Blade
President Joe Biden backs a federal LGBTQ data collection bill. Photo: Courtesy Washington Blade

President Joe Biden has thrown his support behind federal legislation that would improve LGBTQ demographic data collection in the U.S. It follows his signing an executive order during Pride Month that promoted expanded federal data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The president's executive action taken June 15 established a new federal coordinating committee on SOGI data. Biden instructed the committee to lead efforts across federal agencies to identify opportunities to strengthen SOGI data collection, while safeguarding privacy protections and civil rights for LGBTQI+ individuals.

Days later, on June 21, the Office of Management and Budget announced that the Biden administration "strongly supports" passage of House Resolution 4176, the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act. The legislation would require federal agencies to improve the collection of SOGI data while safeguarding the privacy and safety of LGBTQI+ respondents. It also would ensure that providing information about LGBTQI+ status is always optional on federal surveys.

"To advance equity and full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals, the administration recognizes that the federal government must responsibly improve and expand its collection of demographic data on LGBTQI+ individuals, while also ensuring privacy and confidentiality," stated the presidential office in a statement. "More complete and accurate data will allow the federal government to better address the disparities facing LGBTQI+ people using the best evidence."

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform passed H.R. 4176 June 14, and the full House passed it June 23 on a 220 to 201 vote. Introduced by Congressmember Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), the legislation would require that data on sexual orientation, gender identity, and variations in sex characteristics be published with relevant agency data sets, while maintaining privacy and confidentiality standards.

Its backers argue by addressing the existing data gaps in national SOGI information, funding and programmatic services for LGBTQI+ individuals could be expanded.

"By ensuring that many federal surveys, including the U.S. Census, collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity, the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act will provide the data policymakers need so the federal government can better serve every person it represents," stated Congressmember Carolyn B. Maloney (D-New York), who chairs the oversight committee.

Maloney added that the legislation would "empower federal agencies to implement President Biden's executive order and could not come at a more crucial time, as LGBTQI+ rights are under attack across the United States."

While it passed out the House, the legislative effort is likely to run into a roadblock in the U.S. Senate due to Republicans' ability to use the filibuster to block LGBTQ legislation. For example, the wide-ranging federal LGBTQ protections bill dubbed the Equality Act is also supported by Biden and was passed by the full House but is languishing in the Senate.

National LGBTQ advocacy organization the Human Rights Campaign called on the Senators last week to follow their House colleagues in adopting the bill so it can be sent it to Biden to sign into law.

"We know, from the surveys that currently exist, that LGBTQI+ people are already at a disadvantage in many areas of life — from healthcare, to housing, to employment, and much more," stated HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. "Turning the knowledge of those disparities into action that will close the gap requires a much more systematic and consistent effort."

Stacy added that "the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act will provide that framework so that elected officials, government agencies, the private sector, and the public can better meet the needs of LGBTQI+ people and ensure we are included in every facet of our society."

Problems with the collection of SOGI data among users of government services became widely apparent at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. There was no data being collected on the number of LGBTQ people contracting the coronavirus or dying from it, as the Bay Area Reporter extensively reported on at the time.

Nor has there been reliable government data on the number of LGBTQ people who received vaccinations or booster shots. As the B.A.R. has covered over the last two and half years, the omission of SOGI questions in the software used to track demographics and problems in submitting what information is collected to state health agencies have presented roadblocks to resolving the issue.

Health officials at the local, state, and federal levels have pledged to fix the problems, with some progress being made. But, to this day, the true impact of COVID on the country's LGBTQ community remains unknown, with health leaders also in the dark on myriad diseases, socioeconomic issues, and other hardships LGBTQ Americans face.

"Ensuring that LGBTQI+ people are counted in our nation's data promotes inclusion, visibility, and respect," noted the Office of Management and Budget in its statement.

A 200-page report released this year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine laid out some of the ongoing issues with SOGI data collection. Nineteen separate institutes, centers, and offices of the National Institutes of Health collaborated on it, among them the National Cancer Institute; the National Human Genome Research Institute; the National Institute on Aging; the National Institute of Mental Health; and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities.

The report, titled "Measuring Sex, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation (2022)," also made a number of recommendations for how to improve collecting the LGBTQ demographic information.

"Although measures of sex and gender that enable the identification of transgender respondents and measures of sexual orientation have improved and become more widely implemented in data collection efforts, few of the measures in use are explicitly inclusive of gender identities that lie outside of the gender binary, and many continue to rely on terminology or language that is considered invalidating or offensive to some sexual and gender minorities. And to date, much less progress has been made in developing measures that identify people with intersex traits," stated the report.

The Political Notes column will return Monday, July 18.

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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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