When LGBT Americans receive their Census forms this month, we will have an historic opportunity to smash stereotypes, even though the form ignores a large portion of the LGBT population. We have the chance to finally be counted; to finally count.
“Without data, you have no community portrait, and without a portrait, you have no needs, you have no identity, you have no funding; the census has always had a civil rights component to it,” says Jaime Grant, the director of the Policy Institute at The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force [NGLTF].
The Census, a once-a-decade snapshot of the U.S. population, determines the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives, and census data guides the distribution of $400 billion in federal funding for schools, hospitals and public safety.
For minority groups like LGBT Americans, the census is even more important. Census data can be used to counter stereotypes, win court cases and break legal barriers. “The more invisible we are, the more powerless we are, the less represented and the less understood,” Grant says.
The history of LGBT Americans and the census is mixed. For the first 200 years of the census, LGBT people were ignored, but in 1990, when the federal government began counting unmarried, heterosexual couples, lesbians and gays could finally make their presence known by checking the box on the census form for “unmarried partners,” and then answering the question about their gender.
That first time we were counted, about 190,000 same-sex couples revealed themselves on the census, but by the next census, in 2000, about 600,000 same-sex couples came out on their census forms.
The findings were startling, particularly for those who thought gays were all childless, white yuppies. Same-sex couples were discovered to be of all races, and to live in every state and nearly every county, including the most rural and conservative.
For the first time, we were like the American Express card: we were everywhere we wanted to be.
And this year’s census will be the most pro-LGBT in history. For the first time, same-sex couples who refer to themselves as husband and wife will be counted, and the results will be reported separately from heterosexual couples. The number of same-sex couples that identify as unmarried partners will also be counted and reported.
But there will be some problems, too. While the census counts same-sex couples, it does not identify those who are widowed, divorced or single as being lesbian, gay or bisexual. And transgendered people will be counted as the gender with which they identify, but will not be identified as transgendered. The form does not include a question about sexual orientation or gender identity.
Still, it's a step. It's a chance to be officially counted and have our numbers known. It will show those who think we are nothing more than a dangerous, sanctity-defying minority, that we are here, we are queer, and to get used to counting us in.
Head over HERE to get a Queer The Census sticker to close your Census envelope before sending it back.