Census Stumped By Gender Diversity

Census questionnaires and other federal statistical surveys continue to grapple with how to ask questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Under pressure to “keep up with the times,” $10 million is going towards field testing various questions and wordings.

Who would want the job of deciding the best way for the Census Bureau to wade through this mess?

As part of this year’s “Transgender Day of Visibility” in March, President Biden announced a series of moves to remove “systemic barriers.” These included several official identification and travel-related measures changing current procedure.

A key provision is the inclusion in the White House’s 2023 fiscal year budget proposal of $10 million for “critical” research on asking the right questions. This, Biden said, will assist the federal government in better serving the LGBT community.

It is already common practice for federal agencies to ask about sexual orientation, especially in health surveys. These questions, however, are normally answered by the individuals themselves.

Census surveys, however, rely more on proxies. These are spouses, parents, or other household members besides the person of whom the question is asked.

The most comprehensive national study, conducted by the UCLA School of Law in 2016, showed that roughly 0.5% of U.S. residents identified as transgender or gender-nonconforming.

In July of last year, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey began asking questions concerning gender identity. The first is “What sex were you assigned at birth, on your original birth certificate?” The followup question asked if you “describe yourself as male, female, or transgender?”

The survey measured orientation by asking if you “think of yourself” as bisexual, gay or lesbian, straight, something else, or “I don’t know.”

The 2020 census form merely asked if the person was “male” or “female.” Temple University’s Heath Fogg David, director of its gender, sexuality, and women’s studies program, said there is a strong generational difference in responses.

Davis added that there are “way more high-school-age students…who are identifying particularly as genderfluid or nonbinary.”

We are still nearly eight years away from the next constitutionally-required census. There will be surveys between now and then, and the White House is scrambling to make sure the important questions don’t fall through the cracks.