Should the Census Bureau Ask Americans About Their Sexual Orientation?

A group of lawmakers is asking a House Appropriations Subcommittee to push the Census Bureau to begin collecting data on Americans’ sexual orientation.

A group of lawmakers sent a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science requesting that the Census Bureau begin including language for collecting data on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

The Members of Congress state in the letter that the expanded data collection is needed because of discrimination that LGBT people face in areas such as employment and housing. They also said that these individuals are more subject to violence and the Census data would “help policymakers and stakeholders understand the full extent of these disparities.”

The letter was signed by 78 Members of Congress.

A copy of the letter is included below.

Dear Chairman Culberson and Ranking Member Honda:

We write to request the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) include report language in its Fiscal Year 2017 bill that expresses support for expanded data collection by the Census Bureau on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

As you know, the Bureau routinely collects demographic information through the decennial census and the annual American Census Survey (ACS). The federal government, states, and local communities rely on Census and ACS data to determine how resources should be allocated to meet the needs of certain populations. Despite this critical mission, neither of these assessments nor any other major federal population survey currently asks respondents to share their sexual orientation and gender identity.  This means that even the most basic of statistics – the number of people who identify as LGBT – cannot be counted.

Despite tremendous progress in the fight to secure equal recognition under the law, LGBT Americans continue to face discrimination in facets of everyday life such as in employment, housing, and even in the justice system. There is also compelling evidence that many, particularly transgender people, are at greater risk of being victimized by violence, as well as facing a variety of other challenges. While the Census Bureau took an important step forward in 2013 by including the marital status of same-sex couples as part of ACS data on families, the fact remains that we know little else about the social and economic circumstances of the LGBT population at large.

Expanded data collection on LGBT people is needed to help policymakers and community stakeholders understand the full extent of these disparities, as well as identifying the needs of these communities so they can be better served. It is also crucial to our ability to respond with effective and sensible policy solutions that address the unique needs of this vulnerable population. For these reasons, we believe that the Census Bureau should advance plans to expand LGBT data collection in future national surveys and urge you to assist us in reaching this goal. Therefore, we respectfully recommend that the Committee include the following report language in the accompanying report of its Fiscal Year 2017 CJS bill:

“The Committee is aware of concerns regarding the lack of reliable data on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population in the United States. The Committee believes that the availability of such data on the size, location, and circumstances of the LGBT population would be useful to policymakers and researchers. Therefore, the Committee urges the Bureau to study the feasibility of expanding data collection on the LGBT population in its future federal population surveys and to report to the Committee within 180 days on its plans.“

The Census Bureau’s data collection efforts has always played a significant role in our ability to understand the communities that we represent and how best to represent them. LGBT Americans – like every American – deserve to be counted and recognized in all federally-supported surveys. We appreciate your consideration of our request and your willingness to engage on this critical issue.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.