Lawmakers want the U.S. Census Bureau to start counting gay people — but not all gay people are convinced they want to be counted.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers on Wednesday urged the federal nose-counting agency to start keeping tabs on how many Americans define themselves as gay or transgender.
The letter — signed by nearly 80 members of Congress, including several Republicans — touted the move as a way to address more effectively the needs of the LGBT community.
“As you know, the Census Bureau collects, analyzes, and disseminates a vast array of data on our nation’s population,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona Democrat, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, in the letter they led. “These data concern everything from health and living arrangements to employment and income, and they directly influence policy and the annual allocation of federal funds.”
But some groups that support gay rights wonder whether gay people really want to “out” themselves to the government.
Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the lawmakers are well-intentioned, but questioned the wisdom of “mandating individuals to out themselves to the federal government.” Yet, if responding to the census is purely voluntary, he added, “the subsequent results are not likely to be an accurate representation of the gay population in the United States.”
Indeed, such a mandate would rekindle the contentious issue of what percentage of the population the LGBT community compromises.
Gay rights groups have often dismissed surveys that pit gay people between 2 and 4 percent of the population, insisting that the actual figure is closer to 10 percent. Many Americans think even that estimate is too conservative: The average respondent in a 2015 Gallup survey said nearly a quarter of the population is gay.
Key Jackson, national director of programs for the pro-LGBT group COLAGE, said expanding the Census to include measures of sexuality and gender identity would put to rest the myth that the gay community is “really small and disassociated or isolated.”
“I know that nationally the statistics say we’re a very small percentage of the population, but as we’re in the community and as a national organization that works with these LGBT families, we know that we’re a huge percentage of the population,” Ms. Jackson said. “There hasn’t ever been anything with this broad of a scope collecting this data, so in my mind, that puts us in a stronger position to actually be able to figure out what data exists and how we’re able to use that to leverage this movement to a more just existence for our families.”
She also said inclusion in the Census would legitimize sexuality and gender identity as categories similar to race and sex, which are tracked by the bureau.
But Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, said gay rights activists should be careful what they wish for.
“I think that the more data we get the more it will undermine some of the things that have been used by the homosexual movement to promote their agenda,” Mr. Sprigg said. “For example, we will get yet more confirmation that the homosexual movement is very tiny, nowhere near the 10 percent that has been historically claimed, and certainly nowhere near the 25 percent of the population that the Gallup poll found people think is gay in the population.”
While he said he was concerned about the intrusive nature of such questions, Mr. Sprigg also expressed interest in questions detailing how families are structured in gay communities.
“I think if we drill down, we’ll find that same-sex relationships generally are unstable, and it would be something to have more useful, detailed data on,” he said. “It’s sort of a mixed bag. Having more data would be useful across the board, but homosexual activists who are asking for this may want to think twice about what they’re asking for.”