Schoenburg: A population the census does not count

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.


  • Amanda

    Please help spread the word. We will generate a factual map of those who are gay, engaged and waiting for Equal Rights.

  • Queer the Mail Clerk

    Ha-ha. Queer the census.

    Sometimes we college kids can be so cute, trying to make a difference by putting a sticker on a paper a minimum-wage earning government employee will scan into a database. I don’t know about you… but my concerns are always fully addressed by those at the lowest level of federal employment, which is why every time I see my garbage man I give him a sticker that says “Stop Global Warming”. Someday, because of my stickers, the garbage men of the country will unite and demand more recycling. Right?

    As a gay man, I understand and appreciate the youthful excitement in our journey towards equal rights, but is a census count really the answer? The last person I know who tried to “count the queers” gave us our little pink triangle symbol. That didn’t turn out so well. As Americans, our goal should be equal rights for everyone… everyone counts. There’s only one asexual wide-eyed midget in Connecticut? Protect his rights. Only one straight man at Yale? Protect his rights. I mean, even if the count changed many people would just lie anyway. A congressional hopeful? She’d lie. A military man? He’d lie. A farm-boy in Iowa just trying not to get harassed by his mom as to why he doesn’t have a girlfriend (that was me)? The point isn’t about the count, it’s about a national sentiment, an attitude that’s slowly shifting in our favor and an attitude that no count will ever be able to sway.

    But hey, good luck cutie. I love your activism. If you can convince the mail clerk to queer the census, I’ll proudly check my new box… in 2020.

  • AMG

    Sorry, I do not get it! Why does sexual orientation matter?

    The purpose of the census is to get representation and enough teachers as well as services to a community.

    I don’t think that representatives care how many in the LGBT community he/she is serving.

    Why does the LGBT community feel like everyone needs to know???

    I don’t wear my sexuality on my sleeve, why does anyone else?

    Grow up!!!!! People are people and that is all the census needs to know.

  • This is just silly

    You know what the LAST thing in the world I care about is? Whether the census asks me if I’m a homo. The Census is established by the Constitution to count people for the purpose of legislative districts, and thus it should be one question and one question only: how many people live here? Done. The use of the census to dole out tax dollars just leads to absurd situations like this, which will logically end in every interest group getting a question, and I for one don’t want to have to check the “no, I’m not a bisexual midget in a wheelchair who is addicted to crack” box.

  • haha

    I like to eat italian subs…should I be granted the right to identify as an italian sub eater?

  • big brother

    this is a really stupid article. why do we need the federal government counting us? terrible, and invasive, idea.

  • Y10

    I’m sympathetic to you, Sam – I identify as queer, I campaigned for gay marriage, and I think we need a sexual revolution. BUT the problem with a census is that it forces us into little boxes, precisely the boxes that queer and queer-friendly people should be trying to destroy. It also splits us – am I bi, or in a straight relationship, or politically gay, or whatever the ** I feel as a still confused college kid?
    I’m one of those people who think we’re all a little bit queer. Maybe it happens in early childhood, maybe part of it is a genetic inclination that can be exacerbated later – who knows, but if you want to break down the hetronormative binary (see, I can use buzz-words!) the last thing we need is to stick ourselves into more separate categories. That’s why I largely agree with 2. We should be glad the government doesn’t try to define our lovelives. You’re very well intentioned, and we share the same end goals, but this isn’t the way to go about it.


    I picked Charmander. I think most people did too. I demand that the census give us a spot to mark our starting Pokemon of choice.

  • ’11

    As a gay person, I honestly do NOT want to be part of “queering” the census. I don’t really think my sexual orientation is anybody’s business but my own, and, not to be paranoid, I simply don’t want it being on record in case the Republicans get back into power.