Queering the Census to Make Sure All LGBTQI People Are Counted

Movement Advancement Project
4 min readNov 14, 2022

While 2030 seems like a long time from now, the planning for the 2030 Census kicks off soon. For the very first time, the U.S. Census Bureau is asking the public to share ways to improve how the decennial count of the U.S. population happens. This is an exciting opportunity, especially for everyone who cares about equality for LGBTQI* people and wants to be sure they are counted in the next census.

You can read MAP’s input in this coalition letter to the Census Bureau, drafted and submitted via 25 organizations and one individual.

The History: LGBTQI People & the Census

Thus far there have never been U.S. Census questions about sexual orientation, gender identity, or variations in sex characteristics. This means that LGBTQI people have never been formally counted as LGBTQI people. Since 1990, researchers have only been able to use census data to study same-sex couples who live in the same household. That’s because individuals can report on the census that they have a same-sex “unmarried partner” or “same-sex spouse.”

These data have been useful in advancing LGBTQ equality. Researchers have used census data to break down stereotypes about who our community is, where we live, what our families look like, and more. In the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling extending marriage equality nationwide, the majority opinion commented on the “hundreds of thousands of children” being raised by same-sex couples, relying on data from the census. Data from the Census have shown that same-sex couples live in 93% of U.S. counties, including in rural areas, which helps advocates make the case that LGBTQ-inclusive laws are key issues for legislators’ constituents.

However, this approach does not capture the entirety of LGBTQI people.

The Problem: A Lack of Data Makes Research, Evidence-Based Policymaking, and Civil Rights Enforcement Harder

Because there have yet to be questions about sexual orientation, gender identity, or variations in sex characteristics on the U.S. Census, we still know too little about LGBTQI people. For example, it is estimated that just one in six LGBTQ people share a home with a same-sex spouse or partner.

That means that unless the 2030 Census includes these questions, five in six LGBTQ people will not be counted.

Without large-scale data about LGBTQI people, it is difficult for advocates, policymakers, and researchers to fully understand the challenges they experience. For example, though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ruled that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination against LGBTQI people, there remain too few data to examine housing discrimination that LGBTQI people experience.

Census data are frequently used for making government and philanthropic funding decisions, for enforcing civil rights laws, and for identifying evidence-based policies that can advance equity. That’s why it is so important we are counted as LGBTQI individuals on the 2030 Census.

Looking Ahead to 2030: Making Sure LGBTQI People Are Counted

Questions about sexual orientation, gender identity, and variations in sex characteristics can be asked on the 2030 Census. In fact, last year, the U.S. Census Bureau for the first time began asking questions that allow people to identify as LGBT on the Household Pulse Survey. The Household Pulse Survey is already yielding critical data about how they are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 2022 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) outlined the current best practices regarding asking questions about sexual orientation, gender identity, and variations in sex characteristics. The report emphasizes that collecting these data are critically important, that these questions can and should be asked by federal agencies, and that people will indeed answer them. The NASEM report makes clear that waiting any longer to include these questions on surveys like the 2030 Census is problematic and harmful. Following the release of that report an astounding 190 organizations–including MAP–came together to call on federal agencies for LGBTQI data inclusion and equity.

What You Can Do

The Census Bureau is specifically asking for input about how the 2030 Census can better reach and count everyone. This public comment period is the first chance for the public to demand that LGBTQI people be counted 2030 Census. As the Census Bureau explains:

As part of the planning efforts, the public is invited to share feedback on how the Census Bureau can improve the public’s experience during the 2030 Census. With this input, the Census Bureau aims to better reach and count historically undercounted people, overcome challenges and encourage everyone to respond to the 2030 Census. Public input is needed now so it can inform the Census Bureau’s decisions on the initial operational design, along with the findings of dozens of research projects underway.

You can send your comments in two ways. Note that you should identify your comment “Reaching and motivating everyone” so the Census Bureau knows how to categorize your comment. No comment is too short; even two or three sentences sharing why you’d like to be counted as an LGBTQI person or why LGBTQI inclusion in the 2030 Census is important to you, your community, your organization, or your vision for the future.

  1. Email the Census Bureau at DCMD.2030.Research@census.gov. Please include “FRN Response” in the subject line.
  2. Go online to the online submission form. Then, click the green button “Submit a Formal Comment.”

Comments are due November 15.

* Many advocates are working for LGBTQI data inclusion, which includes measures of sexual orientation, gender identity, and variations in sex characteristics. Notably, much of the work to date has focused on sexual orientation and gender identity and less so on data inclusion for intersex people. We’re intentional about referencing LGBTQI inclusion versus instances where surveys may only have asked about sexual orientation and gender identity and thus only count LGBTQ people.

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Movement Advancement Project

MAP is an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all.