Census Questionnaire Reappears Without New LGBT Category

This story has been updated

The LGBT community for a moment on Tuesday grew excited about the unprecedented inclusion of a new “gender identity” question on the Census Bureau’s proposed questionnaire for the 2020 big count submitted, as required by law, to Congress.

But the same day, the Census Bureau issued a statement along with an adjusted questionnaire:

“The Subjects Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey report released today inadvertently listed sexual orientation and gender identity as a proposed topic in the appendix,” it said. “This topic is not being proposed to Congress for the 2020 Census or American Community Survey. The report has been corrected.”

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The story was broken by the Washington Blade, which obtained the original report that included a long list of subjects planned for the 2020 census and the year the category was first included. At the end of an appendix, page A-2 , was an item reading “Sexual orientation and gender identity …   proposed.”

“We’ve been erased!” the Blade item said, describing how LGBT advocates have long pushed for such a new category. But reporter Chris Johnson noted that “with efforts to streamline the decennial U.S. Census, the addition of LGBT questions would have been unlikely. The inclusion of LGBT categories in the report may indicate those categories were initially planned for the more detailed annual American Community Survey, then taken away.”

Census Director John Thompson in a Wednesday blog post defended the process as rigorous.  

“Our goal is a complete and accurate census," he said in his statement accompanying delivery of the questionnaire report. "In planning for the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau has focused on improving its address list by using imagery, finding ways to increase household self-response, leveraging resources inside and outside the government, and making it easier and more efficient for census takers to complete their work. Furthermore, for the first time ever, the decennial will offer an online response option with the ultimate goal of improving question design and data quality while addressing community concerns.”

The report also frames the annual American Community Survey, which provides key socio-economic and housing statistics about the nation’s rapidly changing population. Some in Congress want to eliminate it, calling it intrusive and burdensome.

Any role of the Trump White House in removing the proposed gender identity category remains unclear—a Government Executive request for comment was not answered by publication time.

But the change was characterized as the latest step from the Trump administration “to deny LGBTQ people freedom, justice, and equity” by Meghan Maury, criminal and economic justice project director for the National LGBTQ Task Force.  “Information from these surveys helps the government to enforce federal laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act and to determine how to allocate resources like housing supports and food stamps. If the government doesn’t know how many LGBTQ people live in a community, how can it do its job to ensure we’re getting fair and adequate access to the rights, protections and services we need?”

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