Census wants to know how to ask about sexuality and gender

ORLANDO, Fla. – The 2020 census questionnaire drove Scout insane. With no direct questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, he felt left out of the US head count.

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

“I stalked her to fill out the census form because mine made no difference,” said Scout, a transgender man who uses a name. “There is no question that the census will make me absolutely invisible.”

This could change soon. The US Census Bureau recognizes the difficulty of convincing people to disclose information many find sensitive and is asking for millions of dollars to study how best to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity. The findings could provide much better data on the LGBTQ population across the country at a time when views on sexual orientation and gender identity are changing.


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

The Census Bureau request comes as President Joe Biden explained June as LGBTQ “Pride Month” and as US passports now offer an “X” in addition to “M” or “F” for non-binary or intersex people. It’s taking place as some Republican-dominated state legislatures limit it what can be discussed about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools and Banned transgender girls from competition in girls’ sports.


“We see that numbers matter when politicians do humiliating and waging culture wars against people,” said Gina Duncan, a transgender woman who campaigns for Equality Florida in Orlando.

As the country’s largest statistics agency, the agency is 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 typically understood as male, female, both, or neither.

The $10 million would be spent over several years to fund field tests by the Census Bureau of different wording and placement of questions that would appear in its yearbook American Community Survey.


The Office is particularly interested in studying how answers are given by “surrogates” such as a parent, spouse or someone else in a household who is not the person about whom the question is being asked.

Other federal agencies already ask about sexual orientation, primarily in health surveys conducted by trained interviewers with self-reported respondents. The much more widely used Census Bureau polls rely more on proxies.

Wording and design are important as they can affect accuracy.

A confusing layout on the 2010 census form caused some census takers to misstate the genders of opposite-sex couples, thereby erroneously inflating the number of same-sex households. study too have shown that some transgender people tend to leave gender questions blank or tick both “male” and “female”.


Some respondents may not wish to share such personal information or may be unsure how to respond. And some proxies may not know the sexual orientation and gender identity of everyone in their household. In countries like New Zealand and the United Kingdom, surveys do not allow proxy reporting for questions about sexual orientation due to concerns about accuracy and confidentiality.

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

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

Next week, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will discuss legislation requiring the voluntary collection of data on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal surveys.


According to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine and Engineering released this spring, federal data collection has traditionally treated sexual orientation and gender identity as binary — gay or straight, male or female — but this can involve greater complexities and obscure far-reaching identities.

The decennial census, annual American Community Survey, and annual Current Population Survey now give same-sex couples the opportunity to answer whether they are married or cohabiting. But that leaves out LGBTQ people who are single or not living with their partner in the same household, and for the gender question, “male” and “female” are the only options.

Because the same-sex response is limited to people living together, it only captures a fifth of the country’s LGBTQ population, Conron said.

Only the office is online household pulse survey, which was created at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, includes “transgender” and “none of these” in addition to the options “male” and “female”. It also allows respondents to identify as gay, straight, bisexual, “something else” and “I don’t know”. However, this is the case with the Household Pulse Survey classified as experimental and may not meet some of the Bureau’s statistical quality standards.


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

A report by a US agency working group recommends asking sexual orientation separately from gender identity and optimizing the language used for older adults when asking teen questions, since their preferred terminology, such as “queer,” may differ. Cultural, regional and linguistic differences must also be taken into account. Some Native Americans may identify as “two spirits” rather than gay or bisexual, and in Spanish, “heterosexual” has been found to reduce confusion about “heterosexual, meaning not gay,” which cannot be directly translated, they say in the report.

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



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

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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/11/census-wants-to-know-how-to-ask-about-sexuality-and-gender/ Census wants to know how to ask about sexuality and gender

Sarah Y. Kim

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