Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jaime Grant is the director of the Policy Institute at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She holds a Ph.D. in Women's Studies from the Union Institute and has offered a course in social movements at Georgetown University and workshops on gender expression and sexuality at the Task Force's National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change.
As the 2010 census draws near, the concern of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is growing to a fever pitch. The current push -- to compel the Obama administration to reverse a Bush-era directive that precludes counting same-sex marriages as they are legally and properly reported -- is one that our new president could end with the mere stroke of a pen.
Today, the basic function of the census is widely known: it creates an essential portrait of our nation, every 10 years. This data is used to determine the appropriate number of seats in the House of Representatives. It provides key population numbers for Congress and the administration to determine how federal dollars flow to the states.
There is not now, nor has there ever been, a way for LGBT people to check off a box that identifies us as such -- and thus identifies the challenges, needs and strengths particular to our communities. Such an innovation requires time, expertise and money. Academic researchers must propose questions that work in the context of huge random samples to a general population and Congress must approve the funding that would expand census recording, analysis and reporting on new data. None of these things were remotely possible under the Bush administration.
However, in 1990, the census unintentionally created the opportunity for same-sex couples to be visible when it added an "unmarried partner" box on its list of family configurations. For the first time in U.S. history, same-sex couples living together could check the appropriate gender box alongside the unmarried partner box and create a record of our relationships. Since 1990, data on same-sex "unmarried partners" has been instrumental to countering myths and lies about LGBT communities. For instance, the 2000 census showed that same-sex couples live in nearly every county in the nation, and that black and Latino same-sex couples are raising children at nearly the rates of their heterosexual peers, while earning lower incomes.
As we turn our attention to the 2010 census, we find ourselves in a very different world. Along with those who are "unmarried partners," some of us are now legally married. The Bush administration made it clear that his Census Bureau would take our legal, accurate and honest responses about our marriages, erase them and recode all same-sex couples as unmarried partners. He used the federal Defense of Marriage Act to justify this course of action, despite there being nothing in the law that speaks to the census, or its mandate to perform an accurate, politically neutral headcount of all of the nation's inhabitants.
In late February, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force brought together more than 20 LGBT community leaders to meet with top U.S. Census Bureau officials to discuss LGBT participation in the census. They want us to sign on as a community. As we sat with bureau staff, advocates respectfully but forcefully laid out the faulty ethics of the current position. We noted that there is a fundamental contradiction to require us to fill out our census forms accurately -- or face federal fines -- and then turn around and recode our responses to an erroneous category.
Those of us who have been working for years to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to major federal health surveys have been ignored and rebuked. We're told that the "expense" is too great for the government to undertake; data collection on our community represents an "unnecessary expenditure" of scarce resources.
That the census plans to actually spend time and money to effectively annul our marriages is an outrage. And, it is offensive.
The Obama administration has been accessible and inviting to LGBT leaders since the early days of its transition period. LGBT people and our families have suffered enough in the wake of an election night that heralded great possibility for the nation, while denying the humanity of our partnerships, marriages and parenting rights in four states. Counting same-sex married couples in the census is only the first step toward correcting a shameful legacy of discrimination in federal data collection on the realities of our lives.
We have high hopes that this president will allow the U.S. Census Bureau to fulfill its mission and not place census takers in the position of undercutting the integrity of their own data. Our community has always been one to stand up and be honest about who we are. Let's hope the U.S. government will respect our honesty and match it with maintaining the integrity of our data. We have worked hard for the right to check the "married" box. Now all they have to do is count us.
Stand up and be counted -- sign the Task Force's petition to the Census Bureau.