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For LGBTQ-identified folks, Census 2020 represents both a missed opportunity and an opportunity not to be missed

May 21, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


Updated to add comments by Stephanie Reid, executive director of Philly Counts 2020, May 22, 2019, 9:08 a.m.
In March of this year, when the Trump Administration submitted a list of categories of data it plans to collect for the 2020 Census (and the more comprehensive American Community Survey) to Congress, LGBTQ folks were not on the list.

It was a deep disappointment not only to LGBTQ  advocates who have long urged the U.S. Census Bureau to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data, but also to a number of agencies that currently depend on an estimate rather than actual count of LGBTQ people for determining everything from federal funds for programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and public housing to representation in state, local, and federal government.

The census has collected data on same-sex couples through its “relationship to householder” question in their previous decennial surveys but those results are not, obviously, representative of all LGBTQ folks in U.S..

“If the government doesn’t know how many LGBTQ people live in a community, how can it do its job to ensure we’re getting fair and adequate access to the rights, protections and services we need?” said Meghan Maury, the criminal and economic justice project director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, in a release in response to the omission.

Which is why, according to Todd Snovel, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, it is important for community organizations and LGBTQ-serving nonprofits to educate people about the importance of participation in the census, despite disappointment about the omission.

“This is absolutely a space where we hold multiple truths. We continue to state our displeasure for the lack of questions regarding our identities (trans and non-binary identities, LGB-single households, etc) that will not be reflected in Census information,” Snovel told Generocity via email. “However, we also educate folx on the negative consequences to not participating in the Census will mean to our state funding, representation, redistricting, etc. and why it is imperative that Pennsylvania capture a complete count.”

“We are committed to having LGBTQ-identified folx hear from LGBTQ voices on the importance of the census, its confidentiality, the multiple ways to capture information (with the lack of full internet access), and its ways to target hard-to-count populations,” he added.

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(Gender Spectrum Collection photo)

The census has in the past undercounted people in “unconventional” housing — this means everything from blended households/coliving situations to transitional housing and those experiencing homelessness. How significant a problem is this for the LGBTQ community? Snovel believes it is something that must be considered in discussions of the census count within LGBTQ communities, “especially those in intersectional spaces/identities.”

“For trans-identified Pennsylvanians who have not changed their legal names, we do acknowledge the fact that they will need to fill out the Census application with their legal name and hold that this could be triggering or cause harm,” Snovel said.

“We have streamlined the process to make name and birth certificate changes in the Commonwealth of PA an easier and more user-friendly process, and would gladly provide information on anyone who would like to consider that pre-Census collection.”

“We would also encourage community organizations providing health and wellness initiatives to LGBTQ communities to consider having open dialogue around these issues,” he said.

Stephanie Reid, executive director of Philly Counts 2020, agrees with Snovel’s assessment.

“We want to be sure folx understand the ultimate goal of the 2020 Census is to get a count of people in Philadelphia which will be used to apportion Congressional districts and allocate more than $675 billion in federal funds,” she said. “While we understand the temptation to skip the census due to the inaccurate answers offered, the ultimate result of that decision would be decreased representation and funding of programs that are essential to the very people who are already marginalized by the questions and responses.”

“It is critical that continued advocacy happen around census questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity,” Reid added, “while it is equally critical that every person in Philadelphia complete the census.”


Is your organization working to make the Census 2020 completion as painless and accessible as possible to populations who have been marginalized or for those without digital access? Email us at to tell us what you are doing and how. We will put together a round-up of nonprofit sector efforts at the conclusion of our digital divide month coverage.


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