This week, the Trump Administration announced that it will not include a question on the 2020 census that would have allowed individuals to self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
The justification? The information would be duplicative and irrelevant, from the perspective of the federal government. Those explanations are laughable: the census has been notoriously incapable of capturing LGBT demographics and census data is integral to the allocation of federal resources. Something else is going on.
The census move was one of two knocks against the LGBT community this week from a hostile president. An executive order signed by Mr. Trump this week overturned an Obama-era rule that required federal contractors to report their anti-discrimination policies.
So it could come as no surprise that many in the gay community are seeing anti-gay animus in the census action, as well. They’re not wrong. Erasing our community from the census has real consequences.
Without information about the real size and scope of the LGBT community, we cannot know which social services, from education to food stamps, from health care to housing, are not getting to at-risk LGBT populations. Nor can we know the extent to which LGBT persons are victims of discrimination or disadvantaged when it comes to the provision of health care or left out of federal or state contracts.
Perhaps more importantly, erasing an entire community from the Constitutionally-required counting of who we are as American has a psychological effect. It suggests to us that we do not belong, that we are not worthy of being counted, and that the Administration thinks so little of us they it doesn’t even want to know we exist. To be erased from the census is to be erased from society, thrown back into the closet, and reduced to third-class citizenship.
These are significant reasons to be angry.
But in the avalanche of atrocities spewing out of the Trump White House since January, this one isn’t as clear cut as it seems.
First, let’s be clear about what Trump did: this announcement means that the 2020 and the 2010 census will be exactly alike (at least, with respect to this question). The difference is that President Obama had proposed adding the sexual orientation/gender identity question in order to better capture the size, scope, and nature of the country’s LGBT community. Trump’s decision to cut the proposed change maintains the status quo. That doesn’t make this attempt to erase us any better, but it does offer some perspective.
Second, the question raises privacy concerns, particularly under a Trump Administration. The sexuality question can seem intrusive, awkward, and creepy to some. Nor is it entirely clear that we want Trump, Steve Bannon, and their right-wing allies to have a list of LGBT persons at their disposal. Plus, Trump’s hostility to the gay community might have caused people to underreport, skewing the results, had the question been included anyway.
These concerns are real, but they do not overcome the basic fact that Trump had the opportunity to treat gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people like everyone else: to at least be counted, with our heads held high. He specifically chose not to do that.
But we will not be erased. No one can erase us. Not only because the Williams Institute at UCLA is doing great work filling in gaps left by our exclusion from the census, but also because our community is too active and too engaged, with long memories of what life used to be like. We will not go back.