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LGBTQ Chicagoans weigh in on 2020 Census
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2020-03-31

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The U.S. Census Bureau has asked people to stand up ( or, at least, fill out a form ) and be counted. ( Note: Because of the coronavirus, the bureau has extended the deadline for two weeks, until mid-August. )

Windy City Times asked local LGBTQ individuals and organizations what they thought of the census—which is the first to include some individuals from that demographic. Here is what they had to say:

—AIDS Foundation of Chicago: "The AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) can't stress enough how important it is for our clients and community to participate in Census 2020. We need full representation of people living with HIV and AIDS, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and people who have been marginalized ( including immigrants, people of color and people with disabilities ) in this process, and we are here to help. Let's make sure our voices are heard and that our communities count in this vital process!"

—Brave Space Alliance Executive Director LaSaia Wade: "The census is fucked up, especially for people that hold a trans/GNC/NB identity and also those that have children. So it's hard to them when we know we will be again miss counted."

—State Rep. Yoni Pizer: "Although the 2020 Census form is far from perfect, it is critically important for everyone, including all in the LGBTQ community, to be counted by completing the questionnaire.

"This Census takes on added significance because Illinois is in danger of losing at least one—and possibly two—Congressional seats, the effect of which would be to diminish our state's power and our access to federal resources. In addition, the Census will ascertain the number of same-sex marriages and same-sex cohabiting partners in the United States. This count will give Illinois access to our appropriate share of $675 billion annual funding for programs that specifically benefit our community, including: HIV/AIDS project grants; housing assistance and homelessness transition programs; adoption assistance; and community development block grants.

"Unfortunately, this form is deficient in several respects. Unless you're in a same-sex marriage or a living with your same-sex partner, you won't be identified as a member of the LGBTQ community. Further, the Census is not sensitive to gender identification: the only options are "male" or "female," ignoring those of us who don't identify as either.

"In 2016, there was an attempt in Congress to make the 2020 Census more inclusive by including questions about sexual orientation and gender identity; unfortunately, all progress on this front was thwarted by the Trump administration. And in 2018, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris ( D-California ) introduced the Census Equality Act, which would have mandated collection of this information in the 2020 Census; sadly, this act was blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.

"Despite these deficiencies, we can't let perfection be the enemy of the possible. Right now we need to fill out the 2020 Census, as imperfect as it is, and be counted!"

—Center on Halsted: "Representation matters. Visibility saves lives. We have known this since the days of Gay Liberation and before! Homophile activists in the 1950s and 1960s risked their lives to be visible in the political world. Gay Liberation and Lesbian Feminism of the 1970s opened up space to live our lives as we had never before: open and out. The work we have all done since has depended on us being out, visible, and represented, and counted. It's a slow process. The fact that sexual orientation is not an explicitly federally protected status further complicates matters. Full representation in the Census can help us move closer to that point, to secure us protections that are desperately needed like protection from housing and employment discrimination. But until we are able to be counted for who we fully are, we must continue to be counted in the ways available to us and keep fighting for those ways that are not yet counted.

"We strongly advocate that all individuals complete the Census, either online, or on the phone, despite these concerns. This includes people of all sexual orientation, gender identities, races/ethnicities, ages, and citizenship statuses. It is our Constitutional and communal responsibility. We can only make these much needed changes in the future if we are all counted and heard.

"The Census Bureau did show movement forward with the inclusion of same-sex relationship status, but LGBTQ self-identification remains absent. With regard to gender identity, the 2020 Census remains committed to only collecting data in binary "male/female" terms. This erasure of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals limits our understanding of these communities and leads to underrepresentation of populations. As someone of Middle Eastern decent, this is especially evident to me. On the US Census, I must report as "white," despite the countless ways that response is profoundly problematic and fundamentally wrong. Moreover, by not having a space to identify as bisexual, the unvoiced assumption is that I am straight. By being required to select my sex assigned at birth as male, my identity as a non-binary person is stripped away. Unfortunately, this is true of thousands of people nationwide.

"Sexual minorities such as gay men, lesbian women, bisexual, pansexual, other sexually fluid folks, and asexual people are being misrepresented. This gross and purposeful erasure perpetuates common retorts of how LGBTQ people only account for a small percentage of the general population. Subsequently too many policy or funding efforts to support our communities are deemed unnecessary or "special rights." We estimate that about 5-6% of the general population identify as LGBTQ, but that is an extrapolation of a wide range of research data. Census data is still typically held as the ideal source from which to draw demographic data. Although it is far from perfect or fully representative, it is a way to count.

"The 2020 Census has provided the LGBTQ community with an opportunity. As those who have looked at their census form online already know, the Census this decade asks specific information regarding marital status and separates that information out between same-sex and different-sex partnerships. These are further separated by married and unmarried-but-partnered statuses. This information is vital to collect and will provide researchers, government officials, and so many more with ample data from which to make inferences and decisions that will impact the LGBTQ community. As a former anthropologist that has done extensive ethnographic research on segments of Chicago's LGBTQ communities, I was often discouraged by the lack of useful, reliable, and geographically-specific data on LGBTQ people. This has definitely improved over the past several years, but so much of social science depends on Census data to make statistically valuable inferences.

"As we draw on our strength and resilience in these days and in the days ahead. Let's prioritize representation and visibility through the 2020 Census. Today a pandemic, but who knows what tomorrow holds. Let's ensure, come what may, we have done our part to be counted and have fair representation. Make them count us."

—Affinity Executive Director Anna DeShawn: "The one thing I'd like to see changed is the counting of LGBTQ folks. Our identities matter & deserve to be counted."

—Howard Brown Health President/CEO David Ernesto Munar: ""With shelter-in-place in effect in most parts of the country, it's more important than ever that we educate each other about the importance of completing the Census. One way we can build power and ensure resources for our communities is by completing the Census.

"LGBTQ people, particularly queer, transgender and non-binary communities, communities of color, older adults and young people may be less likely to complete the Census. And it is easy to understand why since the LGBTQ community is not fully reflected in the data. But our community is more likely to need many of the safety-net programs impacted by the Census count and these data are still used to ensure fair congressional representation. Being counted means that that the LGBTQ community will be more likely to secure federal funding over the next decade for community programs that are sorely needed like Medicaid, public housing and SNAP benefits."

—Howard Brown Health Vice President for Education, Research and Advocacy Andie Baker: "While the 2020 Census counts same sex couples for the first time, the survey is far from perfect. This year's survey does not include specific questions about sexual orientation or gender identity, which means that as organizations like Howard Brown ask members of our community to complete the Census, they will not see an accurate representation of themselves reflected back in the data. Without this complete picture, we miss opportunities to use census data to inform advocates, policymakers and researchers."

—Activist Kim Hunt: "This is truly a time when we have to be able to address multiple priorities at the same time. While we are all rightly focused on the devastating spread of the novel coronavirus and the necessity of sheltering in place, we cannot forget the importance of Census 2020. Making sure that everyone is counted is absolutely critical to ensuring that Chicago and Illinois have fair representation at the Federal level and that funding and other resources are available to LGBTQ+ people, especially those who are living on the margins. Everyone, please take a few moments to fill out your form online or the hard copy."


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