Thursday, March 30, 2017

The US Census and the (Incomplete) Exploration of the American Identity

Tuesday, a list of topics for the 2020 US Census was released, which finally included sexual orientation as a topic of interest. Tuesday afternoon, the list was updated, this time without sexual orientation. So begins the scramble to explain what happened and, as is sadly becoming the case these days, the information we're receiving from different representatives is often contradictory:
LGBTQ groups had been working with the Census Bureau to explore adding questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, and some of them hoped to see those questions — or at least an update on their status — in the new document. They were disappointed: The subjects weren’t listed in the main report. An appendix at the end, however, presented a table showing the various topics and the years they were first included in the surveys. Near the bottom of the list was “sexual orientation and gender identity”; in place of a year, the table said simply, “proposed.”

In a blog post Wednesday evening, Census Bureau Director John Thompson, who has led the bureau since 2013, wrote that the line in the appendix had been included “due to an error.” In a subsequent email to me, a census spokeswoman said the bureau had explored adding questions on orientation and identity, and that as part of that process a “working copy of the report had a section” on those subjects. “That section of the report was removed prior to publication, but was inadvertently left in the appendix,” the email continued. The bureau did not respond to a follow-up email asking when the section was removed.

Gary Gates, a demographer who has long advocated for collecting better data on the LGBTQ population, said adding questions to the census or ACS requires an extensive vetting and testing process that usually takes years. And Gates, who served on the Census Bureau’s scientific advisory committee until last year, said the bureau is especially wary of adding potentially controversial questions at a time when its surveys are already under political scrutiny from some Republicans in Congress.

“I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that there was never a plan to add sexual orientation or gender identity to the 2020 census,” Gates said. “That just wasn’t happening. It wasn’t even being considered.”
So what is it? A proposed topic they were exploring but ultimately decided to omit? A topic they were never considering that was truly an error? A topic they were going to include that was removed due to political pressure? Seriously, no one is giving the same story.

Even more important, what is their rationale for not including such an important topic? Considering the ongoing debate for LGBT rights, arguments about restroom usage, and so on, wouldn't these data help inform these discussions and policies?

No comments:

Post a Comment