Census wants to know how to ask about sexuality and gender

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By MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — RIDG 201-209 and JR101-103 are scheduled to be released at 8 a.m. Saturday morning.

The 2020 census questionnaire drove Scout crazy. With no direct questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, it made him feel left out of the US tally.

Among LGBTQ people, the census only asked about same-sex couples living together, and Scout did not live with her partner. So to compensate, he badgered his cohabiting gay neighbors in Providence, Rhode Island, to respond and at least provide some visibility to the community.

“I was stalking them to fill out the census form because mine didn’t make any difference,” said Scout, a transgender man who uses a name. “There is no doubt that I am absolutely rendered invisible by the census.”

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That could soon change. Recognizing the difficulty of persuading people to reveal information that many find sensitive, the US Census Bureau is asking millions of dollars to study the best way to ask questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. The findings could provide much better data on the nationwide LGBTQ population at a time when opinions about sexual orientation and gender identity are changing.

“Change is in the air,” said Kerith Conron, director of research at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, which studies these issues. “It’s exciting.”

The Census Bureau’s request comes as President Joe Biden has declared June ‘LGBTQ Pride Month’ and US passports now offer an ‘X’ in addition to ‘M’ or ‘F’, for people not binary or intersex. place as some Republican-dominated state legislatures restrict what can be discussed about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools and ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports.

“We find numbers matter when politicians degrade and wage culture wars against people,” said Gina Duncan, a transgender woman who is an Orlando activist with Equality Florida.

As the nation’s largest statistical agency, the bureau is setting an example of how other agencies and companies are asking these questions, she noted.

The most commonly used terms for sexual orientation are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight. Gender norms are generally understood as masculine, feminine, both, or neither.

The $10 million would be spent over several years to fund Census Bureau field testing of different wordings and placement of questions that would appear on its annual survey of the American community.

The office is particularly interested in examining how answers are provided by “proxy” such as a parent, spouse or someone else in a household who is not the person the question is about. .

Other federal agencies already ask questions about sexual orientation, mostly in health surveys conducted by trained interviewers with respondents answering for themselves. The much more widely publicized Census Bureau surveys tend to rely more on proxies.

Formulation and design are important as they can affect accuracy.

A confusing layout on the 2010 census form led some enumerators to misreport the sexes of opposite-sex couples, incorrectly inflating the number of same-sex households. Studies have also shown that some transgender people are more likely to leave gender questions blank or tick both “male” and “female.”

Some respondents may not want to share this personal information or may not know how to respond. And some proxies may not know the sexual orientation and gender identity of everyone in their household. In places like New Zealand and the UK, surveys do not allow proxy reporting for questions about sexual orientation due to accuracy and privacy concerns.

The federal statistical system is currently unable to provide high-quality information on sexual and gender minorities without improving and expanding data collection on this topic, the Census Bureau said in its 2023 budget proposal.

“This research can help us measure the growth and diversity of the LGBTQ population in the United States,” a Census Bureau statement said.

Next week, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will discuss legislation that would require data on sexual orientation and gender identity to be voluntarily collected in federal investigations.

Federal data collection has traditionally treated sexual orientation and gender identity as binary — gay or straight, male or female — but that can mask greater complexities and broader identities, according to a report by the National Academies of Human Rights. science, medicine and engineering published this spring.

The Annual Census, Annual American Community Survey, and Annual Current Population Survey now allow same-sex couples to respond if they are married or in a relationship. But that omits LGBTQ people who are single or don’t live in the same household as their partner, and for gender, “male” and “female” are the only options.

Because the gay response is limited to people living together, it only represents one-fifth of the country’s LGBTQ population, Conron said.

Only the Office’s online household pulse survey, created at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, includes “transgender” and “none of these” alongside the options “male” and “female”. It also allows respondents to identify as gay, straight, bisexual, “something else” and “don’t know”. However, the household survey is classified as experimental and may not meet some of the bureau’s statistical quality standards.

Other countries that already ask about sexual orientation in their data collection include Australia, Canada, New Zealand and countries in the United Kingdom.

A report by a working group of US agencies recommends that sexual orientation be asked separately from gender identity and that the language used for older people be changed when asking questions to teenagers, because their preferred terminologies, like “queer”, may be different. Cultural, regional and linguistic differences must also be taken into account. Some Native Americans may identify as “two-spirited” rather than gay or bisexual, and in Spanish, “heterosexual” was found to reduce confusion over “straight, i.e. not gay” which does not directly translate , according to the report.

“Each new generation is more diverse in their sexuality and gender,” Duncan said. “The Census Bureau should keep abreast of this development.”

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

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