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How Congress can illuminate LGBTQI+ experiences — and craft equitable solutions

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This Pride Month, the U.S. House of Representatives took the historic step of passing the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act — which requires federal surveys to collect voluntary, self-disclosed demographic data on sexual orientation, gender identity and variations in sex characteristics, including intersex traits, while maintaining necessary privacy and confidentiality standards. Bipartisan House passage of this bill marks important progress and was supported by a broad coalition of over 150 organizations dedicated to improving the well-being of LGBTQI+ communities. These data will help measure the impact of a wide range of policies, enforce nondiscrimination protections, bring visibility to how this growing portion of the U.S. population is faring in many facets of daily life, as well as generate policy solutions that promote greater equity for LGBTQI+ communities. Now, it’s up to the Senate to pass the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act to help ensure the experiences of the LGBTQI+ community are no longer overlooked. 

The federal government conducts surveys on a wide variety of topics and populations and then uses those data to develop policy, program and funding priorities that affect millions of people across the country. This also means the federal government is uniquely positioned to engage in data collection about LGBTQI+ people to generate accurate, consistent and representative data at a large enough scale that allows for researchers to analyze the diversity of experiences among LGBTQI+ communities.

Lack of data collection on sexual orientation, gender identity and variations in sex characteristics hinders the ability of policymakers, researchers, service providers and advocates to identify and better understand the needs and experiences of LGBTQI+ communities across key areas of life, particularly within the U.S. economy. Expanding and enhancing data collection on LGBTQI+ communities is essential not only to gain insight into the experiences of LGBTQI+ communities, but also to identify and address longstanding economic disparities driven by discrimination, stigma, and exclusion. For transgender communities — and LGBTQI+ people who are also members of other marginalized communities, such as LGBTQI+ people of color and LGBTQI+ people with disabilities — barriers to economic security are heightened, and intersectional data collection is critical to closing these gaps. 

By not regularly asking questions about sexual orientation, gender identity and variations in sex characteristics in a comprehensive way, the federal government largely neglects LGBTQI+ communities in their data collection. Every month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics releases data on the employment situation of the U.S. labor market — a monthly snapshot of how the labor market is progressing, broken down by industry as well as demographic measures like gender, age and race. Every month, without fail, data on the LGBTQI+ community are not collected, which means their experiences within the labor market are largely unknown on a month-to-month basis, leaving researchers and policymakers in the dark about trends or patterns. This month’s employment situation report showed that Black and Latina women’s unemployment rate is rising, unlike most other groups. This type of information helps policymakers and advocates understand whether the current labor market recovery is reaching everyone equitably and how systemic issues persist — information we do not currently have on LGBTQI+ workers. The employment situation report is one of countless examples of how LGBTQI+ people are overlooked in federal surveys. 

The federal government has demonstrated its capacity to collect these data. In July 2021, the Census Bureau took the historic step of adding questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to its Household Pulse Survey (HPS) that collects data to measure household experiences during the coronavirus pandemic — marking the first time a survey sponsored by the Census Bureau included these questions. Drawing from the HPS data, the Center for American Progress found that even though LGBT people are more likely or just as likely to work as non-LGBT people, they are more likely to live in poverty, report losing a source of employment income, and experience difficulty paying for household expenses. For LGBT people of color and for transgender people, many of these disparate outcomes are even more pronounced. Transgender people, in particular, were employed at lower rates than most other groups, suggesting obstacles to attaining employment in the first place. These findings are in line with existing evidence of the challenges LGBTQI+ communities, especially transgender people, face in accessing economic security and entering into the labor market. 

Despite the historic, and largely equitable, economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these data reveal that systemic inequities persist nonetheless. These data also serve as a critical map to help advocates and policymakers identify disparities, policy failures, and gaps in program delivery for which targeted policy solutions can meaningfully advance equity for LGBTQI+ and other underserved communities. For example, these findings provide further evidence of the need to support policies that ensure good jobs are available and accessible for LGBTQI+ workers, especially jobs that offer fair wages and critical health benefits needed to support workers and their families.

As a country, we measure what we value and value what we measure. Investing in data collection on LGBTQI+ people is a critical step to shed light on the ways in which existing policies may fail LGBTQI+ communities and to design effective solutions. If we are to measure and meaningfully advance equity in all aspects of daily life, we need to start by eliminating these blind spots. 

The Senate should follow the lead of the House and take decisive action to pass legislation to promote the well-being of LGBTQI+ communities. That includes not only advancing equitable data collection on LGBTQI+ communities by passing the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act, but also strengthening and modernizing our civil rights laws to ensure clear, consistent and comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQI+ people by passing the Equality Act.

Caroline Medina is senior policy analyst of the Center for American Progress LGBTQI+ Research and Communications Project. 

Rose Khattar is associate director of rapid response and analysis of the Center for American Progress Economic Policy team.

Tags Census civil rights Demographics gay rights LGBTQ rights

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