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Census 2020: Preparing the Count and the Coming Undercount of the LGBTQIA+ Community

Posted on March 11, 2020


Justyn Miller

ELGL is the proud host of CivicPride content. The mission of CivicPRIDE is to advance inclusive local government by empowering LGBTQIA+ leadership.It is a national association for local government professionals of all gender and sexual identities.

CivicPRIDE Steering Committee Member Justyn Miller (Justyn’s LinkedIn) provides insight into the importance of the Census and representation of the LGBTQIA+ community.


The Process and Importance of the Census

As we begin a new decade, our country completes the process of garnering an accurate count of everyone in it. First, a little background, the U.S. Constitution requires a decennial census including a population count. The process began with the first census in 1790. Since then, the need for additional, useful demographic information has continuously been added. Many of you reading this might be heavily involved with a Complete Count Committee (CCC) in your own community which raises awareness about the importance of everyone being counted once, only once, and in the right place.

According to the United States Census website, census data is used by both business and government. More specifically, businesses use the demographic data to determine areas of potential growth, entrepreneurs rely on the data to make informed decisions about investment, while governments use the data to determine appropriation of political power, how tax dollars are distributed and spent through grants and other offerings. Overall, according to the Census website, in the Federal Government’s 2015 fiscal year, $675 billion of funds were distributed across 132 different programs utilizing Census Bureau data. The cost of the 2010 Census was estimated at approximately $12.9 billion or $47.48 per capita (person).

Census 2020 Graphic The *Non* Counting of LGBTQIA+ Community

Now, I turn to how the LGBTQIA+ community fits into the census. A disclaimer before I begin: the accurate counting of all different identities and communities of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum has been made more precarious and difficult due to the last-minute rejection of LGBTQIA+ responses to questions on the 2020 Census.

The Census was supposed to include new responses, in the section of the form, pertaining to relationships. The new category would have included response choices that counted same-sex couples. The decision, to remove (proposed) responses to Census questions pertaining to relationships was made in 2018. We must also acknowledge the Census would have also lacked questions pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity too. It makes getting an accurate count of the spectrum more difficult because no progress will be made to capture the many distinct identities of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Without this progress, many LGBTQIA+ individuals may only partially or not participate in Census altogether.

The inability to count the LGBTQIA+ community especially stings when you consider the importance of Census data to many important aspects of American life, especially funding from the federal government.

The United States also lacks an accurate, overall count of the LGBTQIA+ community and the Census is a great vehicle to garner such a count. The argument for including Census questions about the LGBTQIA+ community is one of extreme importance. As Tim Teeman of the Daily Beast writes about the importance of conducting an accurate count of the LGBTQIA+ Community, “the answer-that everyone deserves equal treatment under the law regardless of their sex, race, or sexual and gender identities; regardless of how many of them they are — can be list at the pedestal of a start statistic. This is about equality and recognizing the needs and presence of particular sub-populations within the main one. This is about signaling to LGBT people that they count culturally, as well as statistically.”[1]

The coming Census will likely severely undercount many members of the LGBTQIA+ community but the importance of still being counted cannot be overlooked. The data collected, processed, and produced by the census affects many aspects of American life, especially local government. For example, the City of Boulder, Colorado determined that for every person they fail to count, the City stands to lose $2,300 in federal funding (per person, per year). Conversely, the importance of formulating questions and collecting data on the diverse LGBTQIA+ community also cannot be overlooked. For the sake of a fair count, there must be a more concerted effort to capture the beautiful and diverse communities and identities of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.


Works Cited:

  1. https://www.thedailybeast.com/this-is-why-the-erasing-of-lgbt-americans-on-the-2020-census-matters

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