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Gay Community Hopes For Accuracy in Census 2010

New America Media, News Report, Erik Fowle Posted: Oct 30, 2009

The U.S. Census is supposed to chronicle the changing American demographic. But, because of the infrequency of the count -- every ten years, its reflection of the social fabric has always been slightly delayed. For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community especially, this delay has been particularly counterproductive to describing its population.

The Census questionnaire asks the relationship of all members of a household to each other, as well as their sex. In the 1990 Census, when members of same-sex couples would mark that they were married to a person of the same sex, the data readers would edit the responses to reflect the status of a heterosexual married couple by changing the sex of one of the respondents.

In 2000, same-sex couples who reported themselves as married would have their status changed to un-married. The tabulation of this edited data essentially recorded misguided statistics about married, and even non-married, same-sex couples.

For the LGBT community, the 2010 Census will be a big leap forward.

Next April, when gay couples record themselves as being married, or as unmarried partners to persons of the same sex, their original answers will be retained. The 2010 Census marks an unprecedented level of accuracy with regard to measuring the true number of same-sex couples in the United States.
The challenge, says David Lloyd, a Census Bureau LGBT partnership specialist, is that, couples that consider themselves married, through a civil union or similar union, but are not married legally, still record themselves as being married. But, Lloyd adds, the LGBT demographic are encouraged to [self-identify] themselves as how they see themselves, noting that heterosexual couples are allowed to record their status as married even if such a union is not legally the case. Why should same-sex couples be held to a higher standard than heterosexual couples?

Indeed, for the LGBT community, the census is a matter of standards.

Like any other demographic, the LGBT community stands to benefit from better political representation and more federal funding that result from a more accurate count.

In fact, says Lloyd, the director of a LGBT center in San Rafael, relies heavily on Census Bureau data for grant writing. Similarly, other organizations such as San Francisco-based New Leaf (an LGBT counseling center) and Lyon-Martin Health Services (an organization that works with homeless LGBT community members) receive aid in the form of demographic-driven grants.

Unfortunately, political representation for the LGBT community has been hard to come by. Because of the edits to same-sex marriage status on previous Census counts, some representatives have claimed their constituencies dont contain members of the LGBT demographic.

According to Census and American Community Survey data analysis by Gary Gates, a scholar at UCLA School of Laws Williams Institute, these allegations could not be further from the truth. His maps show that every U.S. congressional district contains at least some proportion of same-sex couples to the rest of the population. Furthermore, his data suggests that districts in even historically conservative states (Nevada, Texas, Utah) boast a relatively high population of same-sex couples when compared with districts across the country.

With the changes to the upcoming 2010 Census questionnaire and its data processing regarding how same-sex couples are counted, the LGBT community hopes it will achieve even greater visibility on the political spectrum.

But, Lloyd says, increasing this visibility and awareness has been a long, slow incline over past decades.

That is why the Census Bureau has hired 25 LGBT specialists across the country to promote the count to these communities.

Partnership specialists, like Lloyd, are responsible for leading the outreach campaign for the 2010 Census. The current campaign, which started this past June, is two-pronged. On one end is the mass outreach effort, where census workers have attended fairs and manned booths at events such as the San Francisco Pride Festival. On the other end, the Census Bureau has reached out to heads of community-based organizations to ask for their help.

The second form of outreach is especially helpful in reaching hard-to-count LGBT community members, including those who are homeless, LGBT youth, or the non-English speaking or non-native LGBT demographics. The 18 to25-year-old demographic, among the hardest to count populations across demographic lines, are not going to work with government bureaucrats, Lloyd says, so it is especially pertinent to establish connections with people who will be trusted messengers to these communities.

Reaction to the outreach thus far, Lloyd says, has been uniformly positive.

Lloyd and other partnership specialists will continue campaigning through the new year and into next spring, in anticipation of the 2010 decennial count.

For some, the count will proceed as usual. But for the LGBT community, the updated 2010 Census will exemplify an unprecedented avenue of opportunity toward achieving greater visibility.

In fact, in 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau plans to release data compiled from the American Community Survey (a rolling, monthly survey that is compiled into data sets every year) and the 2010 Census into a report geared specifically toward analyzing relationship trends, and how couples report themselves.

Like other groups fighting for greater recognition on Census counts, the LGBT community is in need of representation and federal funding. But, if you read between the lines, you will see that, for the LGBT demographic, the issue runs much deeper.

2010 will mark the first time responses on Census forms to relationship questions are not edited to reflect misrepresented demographics. 2010 will mark the first time members of the LGBT community will be able to record their answers according to how they view themselves.

Related articles:

Census Mulls How to Fix Undercount

Boston Census Officials Enlist Ethnic Media in Count

Islanders Need Familiar Faces to Connect to Count

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