Online Extra: Political Notes: Report shows states, feds falling short on LGBT data collection efforts

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday September 20, 2019
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The Human Rights Campaign has issued a new report looking at LGBTQ-inclusive data collection. Photo: Courtesy HRC
The Human Rights Campaign has issued a new report looking at LGBTQ-inclusive data collection. Photo: Courtesy HRC

A new report has chronicled how the vast majority of states and the federal government are falling short on LGBT data collection efforts. Just four states have laws requiring certain agencies collect demographic information about sexual orientation and gender identity, while the Trump administration has been rolling back such efforts at the federal level.

Without accurate SOGI data governments at the state and federal level are blind to the needs of the LGBT community, advocates have long contended. It is what led officials in San Francisco and California to require agencies in the city and in Sacramento to begin collecting SOGI data, as the Bay Area Reporter detailed in a three-part series in July 2017.

According to the new report released by the Human Rights Campaign titled "LGBTQ-Inclusive Data Collection: A Lifesaving Imperative," New York, California, Oregon, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have narrow laws or regulations mandating LGBTQ-inclusive data collection in specific areas other than hate crimes.

The report also notes that no state or the federal government has enacted a comprehensive law that requires all government and government-funded data collection endeavors to include SOGI data alongside other demographic data like race, ethnicity, and sex.

A main conclusion of the report found "it is clear that government officials have failed the LGBTQ community when it comes to ensuring equal treatment in data collection efforts."

In releasing the report September 17, JoDee Winterhof, HRC's senior vice president of policy and political affairs, called on all municipal and state governments to "close the gap on data collection across this country" and "to pass legislation to ensure every single LGBTQ person is counted."

Winterhof also stressed that SOGI data needs to be collected at the federal level.

"The Office of Management and Budget is failing LGBTQ people every day they do not act in collecting information on gender identity and sexual orientation," stated Winterhof. "In addition, Congress should swiftly pass the LGBTQ Data Inclusion Act, which would require federal agencies to include voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in data collection instruments that include demographic data."

HRC also detailed how federal agencies under President Donald Trump have rolled back SOGI data efforts since he came into office in 2017. Among the various actions federal agencies have taken was the U.S. Census Bureau's reversing plans to include SOGI questions on the American Community Survey, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services renouncing its plans to include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in its Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living and excluding any mention of SOGI data in its Strategic Plan for 2018-2022.

HHS did drop its plans to remove SOGI questions from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants following public outcry.

"Failure to include sexual orientation and gender identity in demographic surveys brings about real and dire consequences for LGBTQ Americans. It is long past time that officials in every level of government include all marginalized communities, including LGBTQ Americans, in all relevant data collection efforts," stated HRC senior legislative counsel Xavier Persad. "Countless sweeping legislative and regulatory proposals, as well as decisions directing hundreds of billions of dollars in public funding, are based on demographic data that exclude sexual orientation and gender identity. This means LGBTQ people are systematically left out of policy and funding decisions that carry life-saving potential."

Even with the support of elected leaders, collecting SOGI data can be complicated. It requires updated computer systems and retraining for employees on how to properly ask someone about their sexual orientation and gender identity. As the B.A.R. noted last fall, even in a city as liberal as San Francisco, adding SOGI questions to city forms and digital tracking programs is no easy feat.

And at a hearing this spring officials from half a dozen city departments acknowledged that they were behind in fully ramping up their SOGI data collection due to a variety of reasons. As of July 1, 2017 the city has required that the Department of Public Health; Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development; Department of Human Services; the Department of Aging and Adult Services; the Department of Children, Youth and their Families; and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing collect the information.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who called for the hearing, said one of the main points that came out of it was the need for the LGBT community to be vocal in calling for the collection of SOGI data. Because if they don't push for it, he said, then the city won't make it a priority.

"If we don't specifically make sure that we're providing services to queer people, then queer people will not be served," said Mandelman, who plans to hold another hearing later this year or in early 2020 so city agencies can provide an update on how their SOGI data collection is going.

To download the HRC report, which includes sample questions for how state and federal agencies can ask people about their sexual orientation and gender identity, click here.

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