How many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people live in the United States? Though the Constitution mandates a count of every person in the country every decade, we don’t know the answer. The federal government has never made an officially sanctioned count of people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In order to measure the size and begin to address the struggles of the LGBT community, federal surveys, including the census, should include a question about sexual orientation and gender identity.
By excluding the LGBT identity on the census, the government excludes a mechanism to advance initiatives that address inequities faced by LGBT individuals. To make policy, you need numbers, and right now, we don’t have the numbers. Every year, the U.S. Census Bureau collects data through random sampling on a whole host of issues, gathering information on geographic area, race, income level, relationship status, health, housing quality and immigration status, to name a few. Data collected by the Census Bureau determines the distribution of $400 billion in federal funds every year. If there is no accurate count of LGBT people in communities across the country, programs to improve LGBT lives will have no information for allocating resources.
The current statistical information about those who identify as LGBT in this country paints troubling picture and an incomplete one. Based on a compilation of several isolated studies and an exhaustive search for data, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimates that, of the 575,000 to 1.6 million homeless or runaway youth each year, a staggeringly disproportionate 20 to 40 percent of them identify as LGBT. Another rigorous national survey found that 26 percent of transgender people nationwide have lost their jobs due to their gender identity. And, due to a recent change in census data gathering to count same-sex relationships (but not individuals), we know that there are 565,000 reported same-sex couples, 35,000 of which are legal marriages.
These statistics only scratch the surface. We do not have comprehensive information on how LGBT people fare in employment, health services or housing. We do not know the extent of various problems for LGBT people in rural versus urban settings. While most current studies are conducted in cities, LGBT people in non-urban communities could face an entirely different set of issues. Furthermore, the place of LGBT people in various communities of color and ethnicity could differ widely. Only by conducting a comprehensive count of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people throughout the country can we grasp an accurate picture of the full diversity and richness of LGBT members of American communities.
To encourage the federal government to adopt a question about sexual orientation and gender identity in census data, Yale students will have the opportunity to Queer the Census when they fill out their census forms. Stickers are being distributed throughout campus with the question, “Are you: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or A Straight Ally.” Everyone can check their box and put the sticker on the back of their census form. Thousands of people across the country will also be participating in this effort. When census forms are returned with these stickers, the Census Bureau will see the outpouring of support for gathering this crucial data.
We have an opportunity at Yale to stand united in the belief that all of us count. We know that there are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in every part of the country. In fact, recent data reveal that same-sex couples are present in 99.3 percent of U.S. counties. But we need a broader picture, one that reveals the true stake that LGBT people have in all facets of American life. We need a question covering sexual orientation and gender identity on the census.
Sam Schoenburg is a junior in Silliman College and a board member of Fierce Advocates.