Census won't collect data on sexual orientation, identity in 2020

Andew Wyrich, The Record

Both state and national LGBT rights organizations sharply rebuked the recent revelation that the 2020 Census will not include questions related to gender identity or sexual orientation.

An earlier draft of “planned subjects” for the 2020 Census included a proposal to include sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time – however that inclusion was left out of the report delivered to Congress earlier this week.

The Census and American Community Survey collects information on socio-economic trends and housing statistics that are used to allocate billions of dollars to local and state governments. The goal is to get a “complete and accurate” census, said John H. Thompson, the bureau’s director.

The decision to remove the proposal drew fierce pushback from both state and national organizations that promote LGBT equality. Not including LGBT in the counting process could have rippling effects throughout the country, activists said.

Christian Fuscarino, the executive director of Garden State Equality, said that he was “disturbed” by the decision not to collect data on gender identity and sexual orientation in the census and that the exclusion made it clear to him that the federal government saw the community as “invisible.”

“This is one of many small attacks on the LGBT community the Trump administration has in the works,” Fuscarino said. “We won’t see our rights wiped away in one swoop, instead it will be by small – but impactful – attacks like this against our community. … I feel uncomfortable knowing our nation is moving backwards when we spent the last eight years moving forward on these issues.”

Fuscarino feared that by not including LGBT data, money would not make its way to critical health resources members of the community rely on.

“A lot of health organizations receive federal funding, and if these health organizations aren’t receiving federal funding to help the LGBT community, we will see a lot more numbers in terms of STDs, HIV, AIDS and other health items that affect LGBT people,” Fuscarino said.

Fuscarino said Garden State Equality will focus on working with state legislators to “fill in the gaps” left by the federal government.

A bill co-sponsored by Tim Eustace, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Elizabeth Maher Muoio and Mila M. Jasey would require voluntary, self-disclosed information about sexual orientation and gender identity in certain state surveys. The bill was reported out of the Assembly’s Human Service Committee in February.

Huttle, D-Englewood, said if the bill becomes law, it would allow for the state to use data to better serve the needs of the LGBT community.

"Unfortunately, the clock is turning backwards on a federal level in so many areas," she said. "We need to be a leader now more than ever in New Jersey considering what is happening on a federal level."

Huttle said she hopes the bill will be voted on in the Assembly in May's voting session and the state Senate will move forward with a companion bill after that.

The one piece of data about gay or lesbian residents the U.S. Census Bureau collects now is used to count households headed by two male or two female partners in various ways.

The highest number of same sex-couple houses are in Hudson, Essex, Middlesex and Monmouth counties, but the highest proportions are in Hudson, Hunterdon, Gloucester, Cape May and Somerset counties. In Hudson County, an estimated one of every 145 households are headed by same-sex partners, followed by one of every 160 to 209 in the other four counties. Bergen County has one of the smallest proportions, at one in 399. Passaic County's rate is one of every 311. Statewide, the figure is one of every 257, based on an estimated 12,400 households.

National LGBT advocacy organizations also decried the decision.

The National LGBT Task Force shared similar sentiments to Garden State Equality regarding the decision to exclude questions related to gender identity or sexual orientation.

“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,” Meghan Maury, the criminal and economic justice project director for the Task Force, said in a statement. “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?”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, also denounced the decision.

“By erasing LGBTQ Americans from the 2020 U.S. Census, the Trump Administration is adding a disgusting entry to a long list of tactics they’ve adopted to legally deny services and legitimacy to hard-working LGBTQ Americans," she said. "The Trump Administration is trying hard to erase the LGBTQ community from the fabric of America, but visibility has always been one of the LGBTQ community’s greatest strengths.”

The Census Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.