By Caroline Medina
Standard Deviations blog posts represent the views of the author/organization, but not necessarily those of the Census Project.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act (H.R. 4176) with bipartisan support on a 220 – 201 vote on June 23, 2022. This landmark legislation would require the collection of voluntary, self-disclosed demographic data on sexual orientation, gender identity, and variations in sex characteristics (SOGISC) across federal surveys, while maintaining necessary confidentiality and privacy standards that govern federal statistics.
An overall lack of routine data collection on SOGISC poses a significant barrier for researchers, policymakers, advocates, and other stakeholders seeking to understand and address the challenges that LGBTQI+ communities face, including discrimination and resulting inequities. Although some progress has been made in recent years, currently only a limited number of federally-supported surveys collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity, and none include questions that can identify intersex populations. This results in significant gaps. For example, surveys like the American Community Survey, Current Population Survey, and decennial census permit respondents to identify that they are part of a cohabitating same-sex couple. However, by not including specific questions about SOGISC, these surveys do not account for single LGB people or LGB people who are in a relationship but not residing with their partner, while ignoring transgender and intersex people altogether. In fact, it is estimated that only approximately 1 in 6 LGBT adults can be identified from the nonexperimental U.S. Census Bureau data collected today. Eliminating these blind spots is essential to more effectively measure and meaningfully advance equity for LGBTQI+ communities.
Data from the decennial census, American Community Survey (ACS), and many other federally supported surveys are used to develop governmentwide policy, program, and funding priorities that affect areas of everyday life such as health care, housing, employment, education, public services, and more. For example, decennial census and ACS data are used to determine how more than $1.5 trillion in federal government resources are distributed annually; the communities where schools, public transit, hospitals, and community health centers are built; the allocation of political representation across multiple levels of government; and apportionment of congressional seats among the states. In addition to collecting critical information about the social, economic, housing, and demographic characteristics of households across the country, ACS data are also used to enforce employment nondiscrimination laws, which are of particular importance for LGBTQI+ communities that have historically and continue to experience discrimination with respect to employment.
LGBTQI+ communities deserve to be counted and represented in these and other federally-supported surveys so that their experiences and needs can be better reflected in government policies, programs, and appropriations. This is especially important because the federal government is uniquely positioned to collect data at a scale that allows researchers to analyze the diversity of experiences of different groups of LGBTQI+ communities. For example, this includes transgender people, LGBTQI+ people with disabilities, LGBTQI+ people of color, and other LGBTQI+ people who are members of other marginalized communities and experience heightened inequities. Expanding and enhancing federal data collection to gather more accurate, consistent, and representative data about LGBTQI+ people is crucial to better identify and address longstanding disparities and to design policy solutions that promote more equitable outcomes and close existing gaps.
Since the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act was introduced over a year ago, multiple notable changes were made throughout the legislative process to strengthen this bill. First, the scope of the bill was expanded to ensure that people with variations in their sex characteristics, also known as intersex traits, will be seen and counted in federal surveys. Second, the option of a waiver was added for case-by-case use when statistical officials determine that particular confidentiality and privacy standards cannot be met. Finally, a technical change was made to clarify that the legislation does not interfere with the mandatory nature of filling out the decennial census and ACS. Ultimately, the legislation received broad support from members of Congress, LGBTQI+ advocacy organizations, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics organizations, and a supportive Statement of Administration Policy from the White House.
Enacting the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act would meaningfully advance equitable data collection for LGBTQI+ communities, and bipartisan House passage of the bill marks important progress. The Senate should follow the lead of the House and take decisive action to pass the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act.
- Caroline Medina is a senior policy analyst for the LGBTQI+ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.