By Matthew Lardner, MPP Candidate 2018
Historically, the federal government has never included questions about sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) in vital surveys like the US Census or the American Community Survey (ACS). Government officials depend on the information gathered from these types of surveys to deliver services to underserved and unserved communities. In spite of roadblocks put in place by the Trump administration, bills requiring federal agencies to collect SOGI information in surveys have been introduced in both the House and the Senate. The LGBTQ community must organize and advocate for The LGBT Data Inclusion Act because the Trump Administration and the Census Bureau continue to push back, there is growing political support occurring within federal agencies and Congress, and acquiring this data is imperative to improving equity for LGBTQ individuals in all areas of civil life.
Trump and his administration have undone many basic rights for the LGBTQ community since the inauguration, and he certainly hasn’t attempted to include the community more in federal surveys. In March, the Department of Health and Human Services suddenly cut SOGI questions out of two surveys. One, the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants, is essential for programs for seniors, and the other, the Centers for Independent Living Annual Program Performance Report, helps disabled individuals live independently. Later that month, the US Census Bureau issued a statement declaring there is “no federal data need” to include questions about SOGI in the Census or the ACS. This is utterly false, as the Census helps inform the federal government how and where to allocate over $400 billion in funds to underserved and unserved communities. So much for Trump’s statement vowing to “fight” for the community.
Despite the Trump administration’s grossly aloof rhetoric towards this issue and the LGBTQ community in general, more than 75 members of Congress and multiple federal agencies have asked for SOGI questions to be included in the ACS. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has argued: “nationally representative data on sexual orientation and gender identity are essential to HUD fulfilling its mission.” Without collecting SOGI data about our citizens, agencies like HUD are blind to whether or not they are adequately serving LGBTQ individuals.
By remaining uncounted, it’s as if LGBTQ people don’t exist in the eyes of the government. Very little can be surmised about the community even in progressive states like California, home to cities with some of the most inclusive LGBTQ policies in the country. This lack of knowledge allows government officials and society at large to remain mostly ignorant about the ways LGBTQ individuals are being deeply underserved. According to the Williams Institute, LGBTQ individuals are more likely to be unemployed, have low-to-moderate income, and are less likely to have health insurance than their heterosexual counterparts. Clearly, LGBTQ individuals are underserved, but how exactly much we can’t know without gathering significant and reliable data.
The most disturbing implication of not collecting this demographic information is how it strips the LGBTQ community of any agency as a political group. Without solid data to reflect how the LGBTQ community is or isn’t served by government services, they cannot hope to strongly advocate for their rights when they are underserved or unserved. This is why the LGBTQ community must organize and lobby to push their members of Congress to pass the LGBT Data Inclusion Act. Failing to do so will result in more disenfranchisement and discrimination for the community. The right to be counted is the most basic foundation the LGBTQ community needs to attain more political strength. As Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, who introduced the LGBT Data Inclusion Act in the House, said, “to go uncounted is to be unseen in the eyes of policymakers.”
Find how to contact your federal representatives here and urge them to support the LGBT Data Inclusion Act.
Matt is a second-year MPP candidate at the Lorry I. Lokey School of Business and Public Policy. He describes himself as a policy generalist with an agenda of pushing the envelope in LGBTQ policy issues. He has worked for local elected officials Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Lori Droste and is currently interning at the Committee of Information Technology with the City and County of San Francisco.