Form doesn’t allow LGBT people to identify themselves, but gay rights advocates call couples designation a step in the right direction
Forty years ago, the form said "negro" instead of "African-American," according to Elizabeth Lopez Lyon, who’s over LGBT outreach in Texas for the U.S. Census Bureau.
And while the 2010 Census won’t give people an opportunity to check a box that says "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual" or "transgender," the bureau will for the first time report the number of same-sex couples who describe themselves as married.
LGBT advocates, including Lyon, consider this a step in the right direction, and they’re encouraging the community to take full advantage of the opportunity for a variety of reasons, including to help make the case for a sexual orientation question on future government surveys.
"It’s not on this Census form, but if you want to be counted as LGBT, then you need to make your voice heard," Lyon said during a recent meeting of LULAC 4871, the local LGBT chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Lyon is over the Census Bureau’s LGBT outreach efforts in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The 2010 Census also marks first time the bureau has conducted LGBT outreach, and Lyon said she’s interested in meeting with other local groups.
Although she’s not LGBT, Lyon said she requested the assignment because she has a gay brother and a lesbian sister. "This is very dear to my heart," she said.
Since 1990, the Census has unintentionally provided a sample of same-sex couples in the U.S., according to Jaime Grant, director of the policy institute at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
That’s because the form has allowed same-sex couples to identify either as married or as "unmarried partners."
Grant said about 100,000 same-sex couples self-identified in 1990, when fears about discrimination were more widespread. In 2000, the number grew to about 600,000.
This still only represents a "tiny subset" of the community, Grant said, because most LGBT people are single. However, the data has been used in virtually every major LGBT-related policy debate and has helped dispel common myths about the community.
For example, she said, Census figures have been used to show that LGBT people live in every county in the nation, and that we’re not all white or economically privileged.
This year, the Census form will again allow same-sex couples to identify either as married or as unmarried partners. However, in a reversal of a Bush administration policy, the Census Bureau will release a separate count of same-sex couples who describe themselves as married, even if they’re not legally married.
"The Census has taught us stuff we don’t even know about ourselves, and it’s really important that as we come upon a more friendly administration to now give as complex a portrait about our community as we can," Grant said.
Grant said the Task Force is also encouraging LGBT people — both single and coupled — to "Queer the Census" by ordering pink stickers and sealing their Census envelopes with them. For more info or to order stickers, go to www.queerthecensus.org.
"It’s essentially a write-in campaign, and we want to get people really excited to show that people are ready to check an LGBT census box," Grant said. "The Census isn’t going to tabulate these things, but we want tons and tons of envelopes to come into the Census with big pink stickers on them."
The Task Force is among more than two dozen LGBT groups that have joined a coalition called "Our Families Count" (http://ourfamiliescount.org), with the goal of educating the LGBT community about the importance of the Census. Among the coalition’s chief messages is that the form is confidential and people should answer the questions honestly without fear of discrimination.
Gary Gates, a demographer at UCLA’s Williams Institute, another member of the coalition, said in addition to the other changes, the Census Bureau has agreed to conduct future studies about the best way to track legal relationships between same-sex couples.
"Quite frankly the bigger issue here is that the bureau is now taking quite seriously the issue of how to count same-sex couples," said Gates, who’s been using Census figures to compile data on the LGBT community for the last 15 years.
"I really think this is the first time there’s been this much attention paid to accurately describing same-sex couples, and more broadly, I think this means that the broader issues of sexual orientation and gender identity are being brought to the table in a way that they weren’t in the past," he said.
"The time to think about getting on the 2020 census is now," Gates said. "If you wait until 2018, it’s too late."
CENSUS WORKER WANTS TO TALK TO LGBT GROUPS
Elizabeth Lopez Lyon, who’s over LGBT outreach for the U.S. Census Bureau in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, said she’s interested in meeting with local groups to talk about the dicennial survey that begins April 1. To contact Lyon, call 214-215-8851 or e-mail Elizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org.
FREQUENTLY ASKED CENSUS QUESTIONS
1. Is there a sexual orientation or gender identity question on the 2010 Census? No. LGBT people cannot make their sexual orientation or gender identity visible on the census form. However, those of us who are living with a spouse or partner can indicate that relationship by checking either the "husband/wife" or "unmarried partner" box.
2. If I am transgender, do I check the sex I was assigned at birth or my gender identity/expression? The census asks each of us to tell the truth as we understand it. Check the box on the census form that most closely reflects your current gender identity. The census only provides male and female options to check, so you must choose one of these boxes.
3. How will LGBT same-sex married spouses and unmarried partners be counted by the census? The Census form asks you to list the person who owns or rents the house as "Person 1" and then indicate how everyone in the household is related to "Person 1." To be counted as a same-sex couple, one of the partners must be listed as "Person 1." Same-sex couples who have been legally married or consider themselves to be spouses should identify the other person as a "husband or wife." Other same-sex couples may be more comfortable using the term "unmarried partner."
4. Why should LGBT people of color in bi-racial relationships consider identifying as head of household? Census reports some statistics based on the race/ethnicity of the "household." In these cases, they categorize households by the race/ethnicity of Person 1 (head of household). Given that people of color are often undercounted, LGBT people of color in bi-racial relationships should consider identifying as the head of household.
5. How do I know that the government won’t use this information to target me or my family for discrimination? The census does and must ensure absolute confidentiality of these records in order to carry out its monumental task every 10 years. There is no record of any LGBT individual or family being persecuted over the past 20 years for taking part in the census or for responding truthfully to any questions asked.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 4, 2009.