The U.S. Census Bureau has taken a significant step toward greater inclusivity by seeking permission from the Biden administration to introduce questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) into its American Community Survey (ACS). This expansive survey, distributed annually to approximately 3.5 million households across the nation, serves as a vital tool for collecting demographic information and maintaining an ongoing, comprehensive overview of the American public.
In its current iteration, the ACS only includes inquiries about same-sex couples who are either married or cohabitating. The proposed inclusion of SOGI questions for respondents aged 15 and older would provide a more detailed understanding of the LGBTQ+ population’s demographics and needs.
These questions have significant implications, particularly in the realms of equal employment and civil rights enforcement. By delving into the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, these surveys can assist the government in tailoring public assistance programs to address the specific needs of marginalized communities. Additionally, they offer insights into the pervasive impact of discrimination on these groups.
Economics professor M. V. Lee Badgett, commenting on the potential benefits of these inquiries, stated, “We can learn about health, economic, housing, and other outcomes that might be worse for LGBT people because of the stigma and discrimination that they face, and we can track changes over time to see if laws and policies are leading to more equality.”
However, challenges remain, particularly concerning household members responding on behalf of others. Younger LGBTQ+ individuals, who may not have come out to their parents or guardians, could face difficulties in providing accurate data. Addressing this, Badgett highlighted the potential data quality issues, emphasizing the need to carefully design the questions and consider the respondent’s circumstances.
As the Census Bureau moves forward with this initiative, testing will encompass not only the questions themselves but also their wording, placement, and response categories. The ACS, sent randomly to about 2% of American households each year, carries a legal obligation for selected households to complete it. This proposed expansion of SOGI questions is a promising step towards a more inclusive and representative demographic assessment, providing valuable insights into the experiences and needs of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States.