The Trump administration canceled plans to probe Americans for their sexual orientation in the 2020 Census, nixing efforts by congressional Democrats who’d wanted a better picture of the country’s increasingly complex family and sexual dynamics.
Gay-rights advocates had been pressing for the questions, saying it was time the country got an official count.
They appeared to have won a victory Tuesday morning, when the Census Bureau released its list of proposed subjects for 2020, and said “sexual orientation and gender identity” were new additions. But hours later the Census released an updated list striking the sexual orientation proposal.
A spokesman for the bureau said they had been asked by members of Congress to include the questions, and had been studying it — but determined there was no “federal need” for that information to be collected.
“The Subjects Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey report released today inadvertently listed sexual orientation and gender identity as a proposed topic in the appendix. This topic is not being proposed to Congress for the 2020 Census or American Community Survey,” the bureau said in a statement.
Instead the 2020 census will return to the same age, race, occupation, marital status and other areas of inquiry that have been used for years.
“Our goal is a complete and accurate census,” Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson said in releasing a report to Congress on the topics expected.
“In planning for the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau has focused on improving its address list by using imagery, finding ways to increase household self-response, leveraging resources inside and outside the government, and making it easier and more efficient for census takers to complete their work,” the director said.
The census currently gives a snapshot of same-sex households, which has been used as an approximation of gay couples, but it has shied away from more explicit questions about sexual identity.
Other federal tools, including the National Health Interview Survey and the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, do probe for sexual orientation, and the victimization survey even asks about gender identity as of 2016.
Congressional Democrats last year asked the census to include orientation and identity, saying that knowing how Americans classify their sexuality would help Congress better craft laws tailored to improve the situations of lesbian, gay transgender and bisexual people.
Estimates of the size of the LGBT community has been left chiefly to opinion polls, with widely varying results.
Deciding which identities to probe for, though, could be tricky. When Facebook allowed users to select a gender identity it offered dozens of options, ranging from male and female to pangender and “neither.”
The Census had a team of experts laying the groundwork for orientation and identity questions, just in case it decided to go through with it.
The United Kingdom is also pondering whether to add gender identity to its next national headcount in 2021, saying that data is needed. But in a 2016 report the British Office of National Statistics said there were still many “challenges and difficulties” in collecting the information.
British officials were using focus groups and a national opinion survey to test whether the country was open to such questions, and how to go about asking them.