Census to leave LGBT questions off 2020 survey

Census to leave LGBT questions off 2020 survey
© Getty
The Census Bureau’s 2020 survey will not ask about respondents’ sexual orientation or gender identity, dashing LGBT rights groups’ hopes that the new questions would be added and raising concerns that the Trump administration may have squelched the proposal.
 
In a message to Congress sent Tuesday, the Census Bureau laid out the topics it plans to cover in the 2020 Census, when every American household will be asked to provide data about residents’ gender, race, ethnicity and other topics.
 
By law, the Census Bureau must inform Congress three years before the decennial survey about the topics it plans to cover. An initial draft published online Tuesday morning showed the agency planned to ask respondents about their sexual orientation and gender identity, among the 51 other categories of questions.
 
But a final version published Tuesday afternoon did not include the sexual orientation and gender identity questions — SOGI, in Census parlance — among the proposed topics.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
Several government agencies, including the departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Justice, asked the Census Bureau to include those questions on forthcoming surveys. Gay rights groups said the decision to omit the SOGI questions was a slap in the face from the Trump administration.
 
“The Census Bureau is really missing an opportunity to serve the federal agencies and the American people,” said Meghan Maury, director of the Criminal and Economic Justice Project at the National LGBTQ Task Force. 
 
She added that those federal agencies “can’t make the right choices about how to allocate those resources if they don’t have a sense of what the LGBTQ community looks like.”
 
The Human Rights Campaign said it filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census, seeking communications between the department and the Trump administration over the exclusion of the two topics.
 
Spokespeople for the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department did not immediately respond to questions about the decision to remove the topics.
 
The Census has never included questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in its surveys. But the Bureau did include an option that allowed respondents to identify themselves as part of a same-sex relationship in the 2010 Census, and several other agencies ask about sexual orientation and gender identity in their own surveys, many of which were designed with the Census Bureau’s help.
 
Gay rights groups hoped that the next Census would include the SOGI questions.
 
Some Census experts said the decision may not be meant as a political statement. The Bureau takes years to test new topics to be included among their questions, and while the agency has been researching sexual orientation questions, they may not have finalized that research or figured out just how to phrase the questions they ask.
 
Maury, of the National LGBTQ Task Force, pointed to two other surveys, one conducted by HHS and one by HUD, which have both dropped sexual orientation and gender identity questions in recent weeks. Together with the Census Bureau, she said, the moves add up to a troubling trend.
 
“This is part of a bigger pattern,” Maury said. “It seems like it would be pretty far outside the norm for three relatively independent agencies to make these decisions in the space of a month.”
 
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was confirmed by the Senate last month, and the Trump administration has named Republican donor Todd Ricketts as its nominee to serve as Ross’s deputy. 
 
None of the department’s 19 other Senate-confirmable positions — including the director of the Census Bureau — have been announced. John Thompson, tapped to head the Bureau by President Obama in 2013, remains on the job.
 
“Our goal is a complete and accurate census,” Thompson said in a statement announcing the proposals sent to Congress on Tuesday. 
 
“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.”
 
Thompson also said the Bureau would allow people to respond online for the first time in its history.
 
The Census Bureau sends two different forms to every American household every 10 years. A short form, sent to most homes, asks for basic information about the age, gender, ethnicity and marital status of residents who live in any given home, among a few other questions. A longer form includes questions ranging from the cost of utilities to condominium fees to the year a home was built.
 
The Bureau does on occasion add questions to its American Community Survey (ACS), a yearly survey that supplements decennial census data. 
 
In 2008, the Bureau added questions to the ACS that covered whether residents had health insurance and whether respondents had a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2013, the ACS included questions about computer and internet use for the first time.
 
If the Census Bureau decides to add SOGI questions in the future, before the 2030 census, it would alert Congress through a notice in the Federal Register.