Diane Silver

The Painful, Irritating, Absolutely Essential Census

Filed By Diane Silver | March 03, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: 2010 Census, LGBT community, queer the census, UCLA, Williams Institute

This month you and I and all of our friends will receive census forms in the mail. Even though the forms, and the census itself, logo_census.pngwill pretend that large portions of the LGBT population don't exist, the 2010 census still represents a civil rights breakthrough.

Today I explore LGBT America's twisted history with the Census Bureau in an article at 365Gay.com and report on how you can guarantee that you will be counted.

Back in my activist days, I discovered the importance of the census when I bumped into the amazing work of the Williams Institute. By mining census data, the UCLA institute destroyed anti-LGBT stereotypes.

"The big impact the census data have had is to undermine many of the stereotypes in the political discourse that often work against LGBT people," says Gary Gates, the senior demographer at the Williams Institute. "Same-sex couples certainly look a lot like married (heterosexual) couples. They're raising kids, they don't all live in urban areas, they own homes, and they serve in the military."


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While the state of New Jersey considers me legally a woman, the federal government considers me a man and would de-transition me in the census counting.

Therefore, my census report will be going directly in the garbage can, where it belongs. If I can't be counted as a woman then I refuse to be counted at all.

I recommend other transpeople do the same. I refuse to give up my self-respect and chosen identity for anyone, least of all for a government that places anti-transgender bigotry above a fair and accurate census count.

Becky, you know I love you like a sister, but you're just utterly and completely wrong here. Directly from Che Rudell-Tabisola, who works for the US Census:

The census counts people as they self-identify. Transgender people are counted as the gender they identify with.

It's on the Census LGBT Fact Sheet, which is being finalized and will take about a week to get on 2010census.gov.

It doesn't get any plainer than that, Becky. You will not be recoded. You will not be "de-transitioned". You will not be anything other than counted as you identify.

It is dangerous for you to be spreading these falsehoods because the Census is so vitally important to LGBT people and all other minorities as well.

As I said in a response below - Texas is going to likely add 2-3 seats in Congress after this Census while a number of blue states lose seats. You tell me, is it good for LGBT people for Texas to have MORE representation in Congress?

Yet that's exactly what you're advocating for when you tell LGBT people reasons they shouldn't fill out the Census that are based on false information. You're giving the right wing more power by discounting yourself and your community.

Sorry Jer, but I just don't buy it.

We're talking about a federal government that uses collected personal data to out transpeople to our employers as a matter of policy! Is this really what you're asking us to participate in? No thank you.

The federal government has consistently proven that any personal information we provide to them will be proactively used against us. Considering the percentage of the population we represent, I don't think a transgender census boycott would skew the totals in any significant way.

I will continue to call for a transgender census boycott, not only to make the point that needs to be made here, but also to protect our community from the damage the government will inevitably do to our lives with the information we give them.

To do otherwise would be to ignore the evidence right before our eyes. Anything that might be gained by our participation in the census will be offset many times over by the potential damage to transgender lives and careers that will be done with the information we provide.

Unless and until I have proof that's not the case, I'm going with the established and verified history. In short, we have absolutely no reason to trust the federal government and every reason not to trust them.

I say boycott, for our own protection if for no other reason.

Then that makes you responsible for spreading false and misleading information that is harmful to your own community. Period.

Becky, you know better than to lump "the government" into one big single mass. It's such a ridiculous notion that I can't believe I'm actually having to type a response.

The social security administration works under different laws, rules and regulations. The Census is the ONLY constitutionally mandated division of the federal government. It is controlled by the strictest and most punitive laws of any part of the federal government.

The idea that because the Social Security administration outed you and other transfolk means that every part of government will do so is beyond the pale. It's simply irrational to believe such a connection exists.

Do you use a credit card or a debit card? Do you have a bank account? Are you on Facebook? MySpace? Have you ever surfed a porn site on your computer? Do you have shopping club cards, like a Kroger card, a CVS card, etc?

If so, you've given these companies - all of which are under the jurisdiction and at the whim of the same government you fear so deeply - more personally identifiable information than the Census is asking for.

The only way you can be serious about what you're saying is if you immediately cancel every account, shut down your internet connection and never use anything but cash for the rest of your life. That also means you can't check into a hotel, you can't register for a conference, and you certainly can't apply for a single government benefit ever again. Essentially, you'd need to become a hermit in the woods hunting your own food and generating your own electricity.

What's more, living where you do - in a blue state that is set to lose at least 1 seat after reapportionment - you are screwing over yourself and your fellow citizens in your state (note I did not name which state.)

In fact, it is ONLY blue states that are set to lose seats in the House this time around. And mostly red states that are gaining.

You are playing into the right wing's hands and doing much more harm to LGBT equality by ignoring the Census and advocating against it than you can imagine.

One correction - Washington looks poised to pick up a seat, but will be the only blue state to do so.

The list of loses:

New York - 1
Pennsylvania - 1
New Jersey - 1
Michigan - 1
Illinois - 1
Massachusetts - 1
Louisiana - 1
Ohio - 2
Iowa - 1

States gaining seats:

Texas - 3 (!!!)
Utah - 1
Nevada - 1
Arizona - 1
Washington - 1
Florida - 1
South Carolina - 1
Georgia - 1

With those changes, you tell me - is the Congress going to be more or less LGBT friendly? And in that light, explain to me how every single person on the Census count isn't vitally important.

If we were talking about the entire LGBT community, Jer, you'd have a good point. Thing is, we're not. We're talking about the transgender community, a much smaller population, and one far less likely to have any significant impact on the census totals.

Given that, and given the potential damage providing this information could represent as well as the history of how such information has been and continues to be used by our federal government even today, I believe it's an unreasonable risk for transpeople to take.

The facts aren't on our side here, Becky.

One just needs to look at history to see that the Census has never been used against minority populations. During WWII, when the government was actively rounding up Japanese-Americans, they did not use Census data to determine who was or was not of Japanese decent.

As I said before, in over 200 years, there has never been a breach of confidentiality or leak of any information from the US Census Bureau.

And again, you're lumping the government in as one, giant omnipotent being, which is just so far from the truth as one can possibly be. It is indeed highly irresponsible and damaging to be advocating what you are advocating. The impact on everyone, and most importantly minorities of all stripes, is immeasurable.

The smaller the minority, the more impact such actions have. It's just common sense, Becky. Every trans person who doesn't fill out the census is an under-representation of transfolk in the count. This cannot be rationalized as good, no matter how hard you try.

And that doesn't even address the illegality of what you're advocating. You are compelled by law to truthfully fill out your US Census form.

Title 13

Sec. 221. Refusal or neglect to answer questions; false answers

(a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.

(b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500. (c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no person shall be compelled to disclose information relative to his religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body.

Jerame, I generally agree with your comment, but there's no way trans folks are counted _as trans folks_ by the Census, so there's no real harm to organizing for trans rights from not participating, other than harming your geographic region's political representation and, possibly, reducing the proportionate count of same-sex couples (if you assume trans folks are more likely to be in same-sex relationships; I have no idea of that's a true assumption).

It's indirect harm, but it's still harm. No, trans folks won't be counted as such (which is part of the reason why I think Becky's fears are so irrational to start with.)

However, based on Becky's premise of being outed by the Census in some cross-referencing of SSN's to birth records, she clearly believes they'll be able to tell that she's trans somehow and then somehow out her or use that info against her.

I was not being completely clear in my response - my point was that cross-referencing wouldn't happen, but even if they could figure out somehow that a person was trans, you're only screwing your own interests and community by not answering the Census.

And who gets to decide that truth, Jer? If I say I'm a woman, but the federal government lists me as male, does that make me a liar and in violation of the law?

The state of New Jersey says I'm a woman. The US Government says I'm a man. This census is being conducted by the US government. We're being told to put down how we identify, but is there any credible reason to believe that the US government will accept that identification as accurate? If there is, I certainly haven't heard it yet.

No, unless I can be shown that I will be accurately recorded as female and fellow transfolks will be recorded as they present, I don't see how it makes sense to risk providing these people with personal information.

Becky - is there really anything that could satisfy you? I mean, there are laws on the books clearly stating everything I've told you. The truth is in black and white.

There are precedents of Census data never being used for any purpose other than its constitutionally mandated purpose. Can you provide proof to the contrary?

You have an on the record quote from a Census employee that you will not be recoded. There are answers in the FAQs around the internet saying the same thing.

The Obama Administration announced this in a press release as well.

The evidence is overwhelmingly against your position, but you still hold it as gospel. That's the very definition of cognitive dissonance.

I really don't know what more to say other than take off the tin hat and take Mel Gibson off the speed dial.

It's really just a matter of trusting our government to the right thing. I don't. We have laws against torture too, don't we? I'm not saying that the Obama Administration would (necessarily) use census information against us, but who's to say if the same could be said for the next administration, or the one after that?

Frankly, I just feel that providing personal information to the federal government is an unnecessary and unreasonable risk for transpeople.

Here's the real questions that need to be answered:

If this administration is really is on our side and has no intention of using this kind of information against us, why are they still actively outing us to our employers nationwide?

How does it make sense to trust a federal government that is already actively using the personal information we provide them to harm us?

How does it make sense to give such people even more ammunition?

I'm sorry, but I still stay it's just plain common sense and self-preservation to tell the government as little as possible about our lives.

I say boycott. It's just not worth the risk.

I don't know how or why "the government" is outing transfolk - can you be more specific? I mean, if they're "outing" folks because they think there's a gender mismatch, that's not a malicious intent. It's a provision of the PATRIOT Act. It's bad, stupid and inappropriate, but it doesn't mean they're outing you because they're intending to out you. They're outing you because they think someone may be scamming the system or using a false SSN.

Again, I'm not saying that this practice is sound or works in the interest of trans people. I'm just saying there is likely another justification for it other than to out trans people. I am highly doubtful they're sending a letter to employers that says, "Did you know you have one of those transgender people working for you?"

Finally, your argument that laws can change is a red herring. Yes, they can, but again history proves that all changes to Census laws have been to increase privacy and penalties for breaking that privacy.

Further, the Census is too important to all sides to fuck with it. What good would it be to undo 200+ years of process integrity just to fuck over some minority? Particularly a minority it can fuck over in so many other, already legal, ways?

It just doesn't pass muster, Becky. This is unfounded and seriously damaging misinformation you're spreading. Your hurting the work of many good activists to get better inclusion in the process and you're hurting your fellow Americans by ensuring the Census count is inaccurate.

You saw the form - it's 10 questions. There isn't even a PLACE for your SSN. You have to give more information to get a driver's license than you give on this form. The notion that this info could in some way be used against you is just silly.

You damage your credibility as an honest broker by continuing to press such outlandish and demonstrably false conspiracies.

Again Jer, I'm not saying that the Obama Administration will use census information against us, but I am saying it's entirely possible that at some point our government will decide otherwise, just as the Bush Administration decided to ignore laws against torture when they felt they had a good reason.

The truth is that we just don't know if they will or not, but we do know that currently Social Security sends out what is called a "gender no-match letter", which informs an employer when the gender of an employee doesn't match the one they have on file.

What this means in the practical sense is that there's no such thing as personal privacy (i.e. stealth) for transgender workers anymore. In many cases, including my own, the person who hires you has no problem, but once the corporate office knows things can suddenly go south very quickly.

I lost at least one of the two jobs I was outed by the government on directly due to this information being made available to the corporate office of the company I worked for. Everything was fine until I got a call from the corporate HR department questioning me directly about it. I was forced to out myself as transsexual as the alternative was to be fired for submitting a falsified application.

Within two weeks of that phone call I was out of a job. They told me it was a layoff, but a friend showed me the memo from corporate. It was a layoff alright...a permanent layoff of one employee, me.

While the medical information of all Americans is protected by HIPPA laws, which make it illegal to share personal medical information with unauthorized personnel, in the case of transgender workers our private medical information is shared with our employers as a matter of policy.

That's the way our government treats American transgender workers, and that's why giving these people any information about our lives is foolish in the extreme.

Only an idiot goes up to a bully who regularly beats the crap out of them and hands them a bigger bat.

Laws can be changed, and laws already on the books can be revised. Our federal government has a history of using personal information to destroy transgender careers. Even if this Administration doesn't use that information to harm us, can we really be so sure the next one won't?

It's not misinformation to say that we shouldn't trust the government with our personal data, it's just basic common sense based on the factual history of how the federal government has used such information in the past.

And as far as all those things you mention, that's different. All of those things are places where the choice to provide personal information and participate in that site or service is mine and mine alone. If I decide that a certain site or company isn't one I'm comfortable providing my personal details to, then I make the choice not to provide that information and not participate in that site or service.

That's what I'm advocating here, that transpeople make the choice not to provide their information to an entity with a long proven history of using such information to damage transgender lives and careers.

Again, it's just basic common sense to protect oneself from those who clearly cannot be trusted.

I hear you, Rebecca, but I talked for a long time to Gary Gates of the Williams Institute and Jaime Grant of NGLTF, and they both agreed that a transgendered person should report themselves as being the gender they most identify with. Queer the Census has some detail on that. The Williams Institute also has some information in its Census 2010 LGBT Basics.

I'm sorry, Diane, but I think that's the coward's way out and I refuse to participate.

Knowing already that the federal government will proactively de-transition me regardless of what I actually put down (my driver's license ID's me as female, but my Social Security number, which is required on the census form, defines me as male), I see no valid reason to help facilitate government-sponsored discrimination and bigotry against myself and fellow transpeople. Frankly, I wonder how these people can credibly advise we do otherwise.

Therefore, unless I can be guaranteed that I will be counted as female, which clearly is not the case, I stand by what I said above. I'm going to take a principled stand on this and encourage fellow transpeople to do so as well. It's a pity that NGLTF and the Williams Institute apparently don't have the spine to do the same.

By the way, I believe the Williams Insitute's information is incorrect. They say that transpeople will be counted as the gender they identify as, but my sources say that the federal government uses your SS# to determine gender in the census, just as they do when you file your taxes.

Given that I've already been outed as trans to my employers twice by Social Security, I personally believe that expecting the federal government to do anything different here is the very height of stupidity.

My advice to transpeople is not to trust the government not to be the anti-transgender bigots they've repeatedly proven themselves to be. Tell these people NOTHING!

Remember these census rules were created during the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration has shown little if any interest in making them more fair and accurate. There's just no rational reason to expect that transpeople will be accurately recorded in this census, and therefore, no rational reason why we should participate in what amounts to helping to facilitate our own oppression.

Rebecca, where do you get your information? The Census 2010 forms that are viewable online from the Census Bureau contain no question about social security number. You can see a copy of the form at http://2010.census.gov/2010census/how/interactive-form.php . This year, only the short form is being used for Census 2010, since the American Community Survey has replaced the long form. Do you have some other source you can point to that shows that Census will ask about social security numbers (which has not been done before on the short form)?

So, to reiterate for folks, the Census won't ask about social security numbers and there's no mechanism to, or policy of, comparing the Census form against other data sources. So you will _not_ have your self-reported gender changed. Refusing to participate in the Census just costs your area representation--a logical goal if you disagree with your neighbors politically, but otherwise counterproductive.

Oh yeah, and even if the SS# isn't required (which I still don't believe regardless of what's posted online), you really think the federal government isn't going to link it to the names once they have the data? Really?

So I guess we should just trust the federal government on this because after all, they always do right by us, don't they?

Puh-leeze...what country are YOU living in?

Well, the question of whether they ask about SS number will be answered once we all start getting our forms in about 10 days, so I don't think there's any more point arguing over that.

In terms of data cleaning (or lack thereof), I guess you and I just have different relationships to the Census Bureau and how much we trust them. I do live in the greater DC bubble and know lots of folks who work there, and none of them have mentioned any process to check data against SS records, which would be a novel and challenging undertaking, considering the amount of bad data involved and the fact that the Census Bureau is required to count folks who don't have SS numbers, such as undocumented immigrants.

I'm kind of shocked that I'm in the position of arguing _for_ the state and its "harmlessness," considering that's not my usual politics, but I guess that's what being a Census data user does to me. I can respect not trusting the govt and its promises, although I think you're giving the Census more data-cleaning credit than it deserves.

Trusting our federal government to do the right thing on anything LGBT-related is for fools and suckers. It's been proven over and over, and it continues to be proven constantly to anyone who pays attention to the news.

ENDA? DADT? DOMA? You really think a federal government led by a gay marriage flip-flopper who presents religious bigots at public events and a political party that still can't even find the spine to protect our right to work in the worst economy in modern memory is worthy of our trust?

Well, if so, then go ahead and give out your personal information to these people. Personally, I live in the reality-based world. I refuse to be counted as male and I have zero reason to trust that the federal government will count me as female.

Trust these people? As my grandmother used to say, "What's there to trust?"

SarasNavel | March 3, 2010 9:56 PM

Actually, this brings up an interesting point. Somewhere along the process, data scrubbing will happen & my guess is that unless care is taken the seemingly incompatible combination of 'male' lesbian or 'female' gay (man) will get dropped anyway as bad data.

Sarasnavel, the Census won't have any data on sexual orientation per se, just on relationships, so there's no way it could "see" 'male' lesbians or 'female' gay men. What it _would_ do is erase the fact that some people's sex identity doesn't match their gender identity, since it only asks about sex and not about gender.

this is the most ahistorical and dangerously idiotic new twist on the mainstream gay rights/equality or death movement has taken.

how does anyone think handing over a bunch of personal data about queer people to a government that criminalizes, surveills and eradicates queerness is a good idea. seriously, this begging and pleading to be part of an oppressive system set up for our disposal and that can't simply be retrofitted garbage has got to go.

queer the census my ass! remember when we used to fight to keep the government out of our bedrooms...?

Um, there are only 10 questions on the Census form. Unless you identify as a same-sex COUPLE on the US Census form, they have no way of knowing if you are LGB or T.

This is just false information and a level of paranoia about the government that doesn't even fit reality. If the government wanted to retaliate against you, there are SO many other ways to find out so much more about you.

You give self-identifying data to companies like Google and Facebook and your grocery store every day. Your credit card company probably knows more about you, your habits, and your vices than you do.

This notion that Census data can be used against is so backward and wrong-headed.

In over 200 years, there has NEVER been a breach of confidentiality in the US Census Bureau. All Census data is kept anonymous for 72 years by Federal law. Individuals face steep penalties for disclosing anything that is remotely considered confidential information.

It's 10 questions folks. 10 questions. You're not being asked for your first born child or a blood sample, you're being asked 10 questions so the government can accurately apportion your representation and federal dollars.

Queer the Census is a wrongheaded idea.

"Until we count, you don't count us" would be much more effective....a nonviolent protest that would require the census to send out personal representives when you refused to participate, could generate actual press coverage and send a real message to the government that second class citizenships means no more cooperation.

Anyone who says that not participating in the Census is a proper means of civil disobedience is the one who is wrong-headed. The Census is used by the government to apportion seats in Congress, money for the states, and just about everything else under the sun. An inaccurate count means that proper allocation cannot happen.

Let me put it to you another way. My state, Indiana, will likely lose a seat in the House after this census due to population shifts. Do you know which state is picking up seats? Texas.

Do you think it's going to be good for LGBT people when Texas can send 2-3 more Representatives to Congress?

The Census is the one government function that is absolutely vital to the functioning of our entire system of government. You are intentionally screwing up your own representation in Congress. Further, you're screwing the LGBT movement by ensuring that places with less friendly attitudes get more representation in our government.

Wanna talk wrong-headed - there you go.

With all due respect, the specific data collected is not shared with any other government or private agencies or entities. In fact there is a 72 year old hold on the release of the actual names, ages, etc... that are recorded. As someone whose education in economics and later work relied on a lot of the information collected in past census takings, the data collected is invaluable and those in the census bureau take their safeguarding responsibilities very seriously.

This isn't about the government collecting data to use against anyone. If anything the census has shown to have a very positive effect with respect to minority groups. The first census occurred in 1790 but it wasn't until 1870, after the abolishment of slavery, that blacks were included beyond count and estimated age by their owners. That added data and the increase of data collected each time after that was used by many civil rights leaders and instrumental in the later creation and government funding of services and opportunities specifically created for different sections of the black community depending on their geographical location, concentration, etc...

Is the data collection perfect? NO. It has had a history of inconsistent questions and data sampling between the various collections and there are problems with that in regards to statistical analysis. They aren't even specifically asking about anyone's sexuality, but will allow for same sex couples who reside together to check "married" and this is the first time that very answer won't get your census tossed in the un-counted pile. So while they aren't specifically counting it, it will be reflected in their findings.

For those who say they don't want the government in "their business". Fine. Don't queer yours. If you're even the slightest bit concerned with being represented in a fairly drawn district where your voice might have greater power fill it out as if you were straight. The numbers for queer households will be grossly under counted and it stands to reason given the use of a very short form this time around. The point I'm trying to make is this data actually is important. From local property taxes and school districts to statewide and national transportation systems to how many representatives a state can have are all affected by this data.

Queer it or don't queer it, but either way please fill it out.

The article I did for 365Gay.com was based on reporting, which included in-depth interviews with several long-time LGBT activitists. After doing all of that, I believe that the Census Bureau takes its obligation to keep personal information confidential very seriously.

This is backed up by law. Any government official who reveals any personal information gathered by the census faces five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.

So far, I have not heard of any instance where census information was used against anyone, whether LGBT or straight. If anyone knows of any cases of this happening, then please let us all know by posting the information here.

The top LGBT outreach person for the 2010 census is Che Ruddell-Tabisola, who most recently worked for the Human Rights Campaign. Others I interviewed included Jaime Grant from the NGLTF and Gary Gates from the Williams Institute. Gates is the premiere LGBT demographer in the nation.

All of these folks agreed that the Census Bureau is serious about confidentiality and that the brief information we are all asked to give on this year's census will not be used to hurt people.

Actually, they all also agreed on something else: The 2010 Census represents a major opportunity for lesbians, gays and bisexuals to smash stereotypes and that filling out and sending in the census form is vital for moving equality forward. This is particularly true for those in same-sex relationships.

I also agree with Jerome that it is also important to participate in the census to make certain every state receives all the votes and representatives it deserves.

As much as I am personally frustrated with some aspsects of the census, I also believe that we only hurt ourselves by not participating.

The Census Bureau can already match IRS & SSA records
http://www.socialsecurity.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v69n1/v69n1p75.html
"Reacting to an expanding SSN nonresponse problem, the Census Bureau has stopped directly requesting a SSN. Instead, under a new methodology, a respondent is informed that the survey data will be matched with other federal data for research purposes. Unless the respondent opts out, the Census Bureau then combines SSN application information from SSA's Numident file with address records from the IRS, SSA, and other sources to determine the respondent's correct SSN. Once a match is found, survey and administrative data for the respondent are linked. Using this methodology, match rates have increased from about 60 percent in 2001 to 79 percent in 2004"