2010 Census: Make Sure to Be Counted!

Moira Dawson Co-Chair, Alice Tech/Newsletter Committee

Moira Dawson
Co-Chair, Alice Tech/Newsletter Committee

This year, as mandated by the US Constitution, the Census Bureau will attempt to get an accurate count of every person in the country. Of course, the census isn’t just a headcount. The questions are also designed to get a sense of the makeup of the country in order to better allocate over $400 billion in funding as well as determine whether district lines need to be redrawn or new congressional districts added. Sometime in March, every household will be mailed ten questions that the Census Bureau promises won’t take more than ten minutes to fill out. Ten questions, ten minutes – what’s the problem?

Big problem: the census doesn’t include any question that would allow us to self-identify as LGBT. When the data collected determines who gets funding or services, or can convince a Member of Congress that yes, he or she does have LGBT constituents, our lack of visibility on the census hurts us tremendously. However, we do have one option to get counted, though it’s far from ideal because it only affects those of us in a gay or lesbian relationship and completely excludes any transfolk or bisexuals in a straight relationship. Question 1 asks the identity of “Person 1” and then asks how everyone else in the household is related to that person. You may choose “husband/wife” or “unmarried partner,” whichever is more accurate in your situation. (Determining which of you is “Person 1” is another topic.) That’s it – you’ve officially been counted as gay or lesbian. Not complete, not on point and not ideal, but it’s currently our only existing option.

This “unmarried partner” option was first added to the census in 1990 and as a result, the census got its first look – albeit an incomplete one – of the numbers and diversity of same-sex relationships in this country. It provided much-needed confirmation of what most of us already knew: LGBT individuals live in every county in this nation and are not confined to certain enclaves.

Of course, the 1990 census had other issues: same-sex spouses who identified as married in the 1990 census were interpreted as an error by the census’s software. In an auto-fix that surely warmed the cockles of every DOMA proponent, the program instantly changed the sex of one of the spouses, transforming them into a straight couple. In 2000, the situation improved somewhat: same-sex couples who identified themselves as married were automatically re-identified as “unmarried partners.” Unedited data later revealed that a far higher percentage of gays and lesbians than could have realistically been legally married nonetheless identified themselves as husband and husband, or wife and wife.

Absent a specific LGBT question on the census, we remain underrepresented, with bisexuals and transgendered folk especially invisible. In anticipation of this year’s census, a few organizations have formed or stepped forward, including Queer the Census, a project of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Our Families Count, which is funded in part by the Human Rights Campaign. Both organizations are raising awareness of this gaping deficiency in the current 2010 census as well as advocating lobbying and other efforts to add an LGBT question to the 2020 census. In addition, these groups are focusing on adding an LGBT question to the American Community Survey (ACS), a much more detailed questionnaire that’s mailed out yearly to a few million lucky households. At the same time, anti-gay marriage advocates continue to argue that DOMA restricts the disclosure and use of such gay marriage statistics, especially where they reference use of ‘wife’ or ‘husband.’

So what can you do? Take ten minutes, answer the questions as truthfully as you can and be counted. And consider getting involved with any of the various groups pushing to change the census so that it counts all of us.

Moira Dawson
Co-Chair, Alice Tech/Newsletter Committee

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