Why the Census Matters for LGBTQ People

Every 10 years, the federal government attempts to count every person living in the country for the U.S. Census. However, certain populations are inevitably undercounted. LGBTQ folks, people of color, immigrants, people who are experiencing homelessness, people living in rural areas, people with low incomes, renters, single parent households, people with limited English proficiency, and young children are overwhelmingly undercounted in the Census. Meanwhile, white people and homeowners tend to be overcounted.

The Census results directly affect issues of democracy, as they determine how our communities are represented in our state and national government. The Census means more than government representation—the results of the Census also determine funding for social services for each state, including Medicaid, Section 8 housing vouchers, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Our communities need these dollars in order to live.

From funding early childhood education, critical health services including reproductive healthcare, HIV programs, and more, the federal funding that comes as a result of the census is substantial. It breaks down to about $3200 of federal dollars per person for a total of $13 billion for Oregon every year. And with 450,000 more Oregon residents expected to be counted in the 2020 census, we will likely have an additional seat in the US House of Representatives.

What does it mean to be “undercounted”?

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 16 million people were not counted or possibly incorrectly counted in the 2010 Census. These were overwhelmingly people who experience multiple forms of oppression. For example, an estimated 2.1% of the Black population, 1.5% of the Latinx population, and 4.9% of Native Americans and Alaska Natives were undercounted.

For more information on specific undercounted populations, please visit the Leadership Conference Education Fund’s 2020 Census resources.

But I thought the Census doesn’t even count us?

Though the Census does not explicitly ask about gender identity or sexual orientation, LGBTQ people exist within all the different populations that are undercounted and underserved.

It’s painful and frustrating that the Census doesn’t collect information on LGBTQ categories (except for same-sex couples living together), nor do they provide a means for asking non-binary people to correctly identify their gender. Many groups, including Basic Rights Oregon, have advocated for more inclusive, affirming Census options that truly represent who we are. And we will keep fighting.

Participating in the Census is ultimately about harm reduction: this process ensures that the most vulnerable members of our communities continue to receive necessary services. With $87.8 million on the line for Oregon’s Health Center programs and $245 million of Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher funds for Oregon, we need these dollars. And to get this funding, we must be counted—even if we cannot be counted in a way that affirms who we are.

How do I answer the Census question about sex without a non-binary option?

How you answer the question is up to you!

The online system does not allow for you to click both “Male” and “Female.” You may choose either option or skip the question. Note that if you do not answer the question a Census enumerator (someone who works for the Census gathering data) may reach out for more information.

If you do not wish to speak with the enumerator, and you live in a household with other adults, someone else can be designated as the primary contact and they will be the one who speaks with the enumerator regarding any incomplete Census forms. Talk with your housemates to discuss who is comfortable speaking with the enumerator.

Ultimately, the Census Bureau doesn’t check the answers to your questions against any state/federal registry or legal documents, and Census employees are sworn to confidentiality under the law. This means that you can answer the question (or not) however you want to, without concern for repercussion.

When can I start filling out the census?

Census mailings began on March 12 and, once you receive your information in the mail, you may participate via the phone or online. If by mid-May through June you have not filled out the Census, an enumerator will reach out in-person. So the earlier you fill out the Census, the better!

How can we ensure the 2030 Census is more inclusive and affirming?

Contact your legislators to tell them that the Census is most effective when it includes everyone! Find your representatives here.

Contact the Regional Office with your questions or concerns at 1-800-992-3530 or Los.Angeles.Regional.Office@census.gov

Learn more from the National LGBTQ Task Force about Queering the Census at https://www.thetaskforce.org/queerthecensus.html