Jerame Davis

Our Families Count

Filed By Jerame Davis | July 22, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Our Families Count, US Census

Late last year, I put out a notice on some email lists that we had a domain name that was just calling out to be used in some creative way. It was originally envisioned for an Indiana education campaign that never got off the ground. I got several replies with some very good suggestions, but one of them really stuck out to me.

ourfamilieslogo.pngI started a conversation with some folks from a few of the national organizations who were coming together to build this education campaign around the 2010 US Census. I've always been a geek about the Census - all the ways you can crunch those numbers and learn interesting things about the fabric of America, the political ramifications of getting the count right - there's just so much that makes the Census interesting to me.

Today, I am honored to announce that a new collaborative partnership has been born - and the domain name we had lying around is being put to good use. The Our Families Count partnership seeks "to educate and motivate all LGBT Americans and households to be visible in 2010, and to take part in the 2010 U.S. Census." The partnership is proud to be inclusive of both people of color and transgender individuals.

A new website (www.ourfamiliescount.org) will be launching in August of this year. The official announcement and invitation to endorse the partnership are after the jump.

Invitation to endorse and join the Our Families Count partnership

What is OUR FAMILIES COUNT?

Our Families Count is an entirely voluntary, online public education campaign intended to be launched in the fall of 2009, and formed collaboratively by leaders and community organizers across the LGBT and ally spectrum in America. A partnership Website, www.ourfamiliescount.org, is scheduled to be launched August 2009. Bilerico Media is the owner and donor of the domain.

It has one and only one mission: To educate and motivate all LGBT Americans and households to be visible in 2010, and to take part in the 2010 U.S. Census. This education campaign also reflects our deepening cooperation with the U.S. Census Bureau, which has actively sought our leadership in reaching out to many Americans who so often are overlooked and undercounted. They share our goal in achieving as accurate and truthful picture of our true numbers in the United States.

While LGBT community leaders and groups will advocate on many public policy issues, this campaign takes no position on specific issues or questions. Your endorsement does not and will not be construed to endorse any other position apart from encouraging all Americans to be counted, especially those among the LGBT population, who are often overlooked, marginalized or stigmatized by their identity.

Please join us

Endorsements are a direct way to spread the word. Once officially endorsed, we will invite you to place a link to our campaign site on your own website, and we will list you on all relevant materials. We will spread the word in our community media and all other forms of media open to us to date, endorsements for Our Families Count have been made by:

Equality Federation
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
HONOR PAC
Human Rights Campaign
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
Unid@s
The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law

If your organization or community group wishes to collaborate and to endorse the education mission for Our Families Count, please e-mail these specific details to info@ourfamiliescount.org.

Organization Name
Your Name and Title
Website URL
Daytime Telephone
Evening Telephone
Email Address

Why Should LGBT Communities and Leaders Care?

We all know that reliable information on LGBT people is hard to come by. Our community centers need information about us for planning services. Our political organizations need to know more about us as they lobby for our needs. We have many more questions than answers about LGBT people and the diversity of our lives: who are we, where do we live, how much do we earn, how many children we have. The Census information on partners and their children can provide some of those answers.

The U.S. Census and LGBT Households

Every ten years, under our Constitution, the U.S. Census attempts to conduct an accurate count of all Americans and households, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans and our families.

Census statistics guide many vital government decisions. Federal and state governments use Census numbers to form Congressional district boundaries and to distribute billions of dollars for social services. Non-profit organizations use Census statistics to plan services for individuals and their families, influencing the locations for schools, road, and hospitals, for instance.

Below are just a handful of frequently asked questions, and upon launch of the Our Families Count website, more key information and updates will be available.

The 2010 Census Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I care about the Census?

The Census creates an essential portrait of our nation, every ten years. This data is used to determine the distribution 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 and cities. Accordingly, the Census has a big impact on our political power and economic security.

Since 1990, when the Census added the "unmarried partner" designation on its form, LGBT people in same-sex relationships have provided the first visible record of our partnerships in the history of our nation. This data has been very important in countering anti-gay lies, myths and misperceptions about the diverse LGBT community. 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.

Is there a sexual orientation or gender identity question on the 2010 Census?

No, and for two reasons:

First, questions on the Census take years to advocate and include, and must be funded by Congressional legislation. We are just emerging from the hostile and indifferent years of the previous administration, when this advocacy was largely ignored.

Second, there are only 5 basic questions on the 2010 Census. They are broad, general questions that give over-arching demographic information about every single household in the U.S. They pertain to:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Relationship
  • Tenure (length of time rent/own your home)


No Americans will be asked their sexual orientation, nor as individual LGBT people can we make our sexual orientation or gender identity visible on the Census form. However, those of us who are partnered or united in a civil union or registry will check the "unmarried partner" box, and those same-sex couples who have lawfully married will check the "spouse" box. Our families indeed will count.

How will LGBT same-sex unmarried partners and married couples be counted by the Census?

Fortunately, responding to persistent advocacy by demographers and community leaders including the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Human Rights Campaign, the U.S. Census Bureau has reversed an earlier decision, and officially announced they will recognize lawfully registered same-sex marriages in states or jurisdictions where they are performed and recognized. However, if you are an unmarried same-sex partner or united by civil union or a public domestic partner registry, the Census will record this as an unmarried partnership.

How do I know that the government won't use this information to target me or my family for discrimination?

The Census does and must ensure absolute confidentiality of these records in order to carry out its monumental task every ten years. There is no record of any LGBT individual or family being persecuted over the past 20 years for taking part in the Census or for responding truthfully to any questions asked.

If I am transgender, do I check the sex I was assigned at birth or my gender identity/expression? What if neither of these options fit my identity?

The Census asks each of us to tell the truth as we understand it. Check the box on the Census form that most closely reflects your current gender expression. The Census only provides male and female options to check, so you must choose one of these boxes.

What is being done to get sexual orientation/gender identity questions on the Census or on other important federal survey instruments?

Many organizers of this campaign are also leading an independent coalition of strong advocacy partners to count LGBT people and our families in most major federal data collection efforts.

Survey targets include: the longer, annual Census form, called the American Community Survey, which is mailed to 3 million homes every year and provides a much more detailed picture of a significant cross-section of the U.S. population; the National Health Interview Survey, a phone interview that is conducted among nearly 30,000 households annually and provides an essential snapshot of the nation's health profile and challenges.

It is important to note that while these changes will take Congressional action, our advocacy efforts are in place to push for significant advancement in this critical arena. In years to come, information that is routinely available to other communities at risk for discrimination - such as data on health disparities, income, home ownership, and our family configurations - will support our struggle to secure legal and economic security for LGBT people.

When Will Census 2010 Begin?

The Census Bureau will begin mailing Census forms in March 2010 and the collection period will continue for several months.

Can Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People work for the Census Bureau?

Conducting the Census is a very large undertaking that requires huge numbers of temporary workers all over the country. For more information about working for the census, go to http://2010.census.gov/2010censusjobs/index.php

Resources

For additional information: www.census.gov

Campaign Media Contact:

Bob Witeck, Witeck-Combs Communications (pro bono)
news@ourfamiliescount.org


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I was always disappointed that Indiana Equality couldn't get it together long enough to find a use for the domain and an action they could build around it. I'm glad several of the national orgs have stepped up and found a good campaign to run around it. The Census is a perfect vehicle for the domain name.

Transgender people need to be counted in ways other than "male or female." We want to know how many people in this country have a trans history to them, so there needs to be a specific question for that. Many will refuse to tell, but we still may get an interesting number.

TAVA will endorse this.

While I appreciate the intention of inclusion, I can't help but feel it's inappropriate to call this a campaign for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender visibility. Unless there is more going on I'm not aware of, there does not seem to be any option of being visibly bi or trans on the census.

Without advocating for any specific questions, how is this going to do anything for bi or trans visibility? If you've got ideas, I'd love to hear them. But if nothing is going to be done, it seems more appropriate to call this a campaign for the visibility of same-sex couples. I love to see the 'B' and 'T' in an acronym when they are actually being represented, but if they won't be, then I feel it's better to leave them off the acronym.

Tobi,

I'm speaking for myself here. I do not in any way represent the partnership other than having donated the domain name for the website.

I'd respond to the inclusion question in 2 ways:

1. This is an announcement of formation and an invitation to endorse and join this partnership. The partnership has one mission: "To educate and motivate all LGBT Americans and households to be visible in 2010, and to take part in the 2010 U.S. Census." Advocates for trans and bi community members are welcome to join and advocate for trans and bi inclusive concerns. The very reason for announcing this campaign now, is to draw more of the community into the process.

2. Transgender inclusion is evident with NCTE as a charter member of the partnership. Several of the other orgs include bisexual advocacy in their missions. While there aren't any bi-groups in the charter membership, that doesn't preclude bi-advocates from joining.

As for how does this help? First, it's an education campaign for all of the LGBT community. It's an opportunity to speak to the needs and realities for each of the L, G, B and T parts of the community. Those needs and realities are different depending on your situation.

The Census is a legal requirement and there are penalties for incorrectly answering questions on the form. This is of particular concern to Transgender individuals. Part of how the partnership intends to help the T in LGBT is to give folks guidance on how they should answer the binary gender question on the form.

It's too late to advocate for a change in the form or new questions. The Census is a huge undertaking and requires years of preparation. We didn't have a willing partner in the Bush administration during the time to advocate for changes to this 2010 Census.

It's far too early for the 2020 Census process to begin, but changes to the Census form can and certainly will be a topic for 2020. Getting started now puts us in a better position to advocate for the changes we need to the 2020 Census.

It's much more than visibility for same-sex couples. Most of that issue has been addressed by President Obama's order to Census to not "unmarry" legally married same-sex couples, thereby stopping the Census from re-categorizing legally married couples as "single" or "unmarried".

It seems to me that the point of the campaign is to educate all LGBT people on where we are now and where we need to go for the next Census as well as a general education campaign on the importance of filling out a Census form and how it affects your life. There are legitimate questions for how to answer your 2010 Census and there are legitimate issues we need to address for future Censuses.

I guess it's fair to say that it's not going to be acheiving all it's goals immediately. And it is educating trans people that they won't be arrested for answering honestly.

But I can't help but see the logo, "Our Families Count: Census 2010-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Visibility" and have my gut reaction that it's a facade -- that bi and trans people won't be visible on the 2010 census.

To let you know why this is an issue for me, I once had to find domestic violence information and support for a trans friend. And googling "Transgender and domestic violence" would turn up hundreds of pamphletes, info pages, and support groups with the headline of domestic violence services for LGBT populations, yet not one of them had one sentence for trans people. Years later I found organizations that had resources for trans people, but through word of mouth rather than google. Google was just too inundated with so-called LGBT resources that ignored the T, that I couldn't find trans specific resources when it really counted. So it really bothers me to see LGBT headlines when that's not what's represented.

But to return to the census, perhaps you know the answer to this question. I live in a household with two other people who are both my partners. Will there be a way for me to indicate my relationship to both of them on the census, or will I have to choose which one is officially recorded as my partner? That's not exactly bi visiblity because all three of us will be putting down the same gender, but if possible it opens the window for some people to be identifiable as bi.

Update: We’re proud to welcome our newest partners in our work to encourage LGBT people to participate in the 2010 U.S. Census (see below):

Thanks,

Bob Witeck
news@ourfamiliescount.org

Visit OurFamiliesCount.org to learn more and find out how you can join in …

Bialogue
BiNet USA
Family Equality Council
The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada
Georgia Equality
New York Area Bisexual Network (NYABN)
Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
Transgender American Veterans Association