The U.S. Census Bureau has released its proposal for the 2020 count. And disappointingly, a section to count LGBTQ Americans is not included. LGBTQ advocates and activists were pushing for what would have been a new category in the upcoming census. But unless something changes soon, the fight for that category will continue for another 10 years. Changing census categories is about more than just being "politically correct." Learning why it's important to include an LGBTQ category in the census is the key to understanding why the proposed count for 2020 is a step backwards.
At its most basic level, counting the population along lines of sexual orientation and gender identity would be a federal acknowledgement that multiple sexual and gender identities exist at all. The census has had problems recognizing certain populations in the past, and indeed it still does. People couldn't choose their own races until 1960. And even then, Hispanic, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and "Other" options weren't available yet. As a result, people who didn't fall into these still-broad categories weren't considered at all when it came to developing and funding certain community services. It was also a symbol to those groups that they didn't really "count" as Americans. Today, the census still leaves out many ethnic minority groups.
In the context of sexual orientation and gender identity, omitting an LGBTQ category from the census means that, even as politicians debate LGBTQ rights, they don't have a clear idea of how many LGBTQ Americans there are. So when President Donald Trump rolled back guidelines protecting transgender students, his administration didn't acknowledge how many lives they were changing because the federal government doesn't really know. When anti-LGBTQ politicians propose to speak for their constituents, their constituents can't prove otherwise. And when LGBTQ organizations want to demonstrate need in their communities, they can't use census numbers as backup like other organizations can.
Still, there has been concern that an LGBTQ category could itself be limiting, depending on the language used and the way the data is collected. But other agencies, like the National Institutes of Health, already include LGBTQ categories in their data. And imperfection hasn't stopped other categories on the census from being included. There may be more to gain than lose in including a count of sexual and gender identities.
With the 2020 count, the U.S. Census Bureau had the opportunity to take a step in the right direction by including an LGBTQ category. But our picture of America may have to remain incomplete until at least 2030.