Queer the census

For many in the LGBT community, the 2010 census marks the beginning of a not-so-quiet revolution in a push for greater official recognition.  Activists in the LGBT community have been boisterously encouraging greater participation in the census and will be closely monitoring the results.

The good news is that the Obama administration, delivering an under-reported jolt of positive change to the federal government’s data-collection system, has reversed the Bush-era policy on the reporting of same-sex relationships in the census and committed to publishing an official report on LGBT relationships.

According to Change.org, an organization whose mission is to provide a “platform for informing and empowering movements for social change,” since the 1990 census, gay and lesbian couples have been self-identifying their relationships either as married or unmarried partners.  In the 2000 census almost 600,000 same-sex couples self-reported.

This year, gay and lesbian couples may choose to report their relationships by marking either the “husband and wife” or the “unmarried partner” box, depending on how the couples themselves define their relationships. Still, according to The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, this option does not go far enough in actually counting gay and lesbian couples. Lacking a specific question asking for gender identity or sexual orientation renders LGBT couples “invisible in the survey.”

Although officially counting gay and lesbian relationships within an all-inclusive category of cohabiting partners represents a giant step forward, the LGBT community has set its sights on the larger goal of advocating for a distinct demographic count. The expectation is that an LGBT census category would yield data reflecting the full diversity of the community. The implications of these changes are far-reaching and in all likelihood would be a political game-changer. As a recognized demograpchic group, LGBT political organizations would be empowered to lobby for the community’s interests and compete for federal dollars.

With the goal of official recognition in mind, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has launched an ambitious project to push for change called “Queer the Census.”

The Task Force’s message is loud and proud:  “We’re here.  We’re queer.  And we want you to ask us about it.”

More than 100,000 bright pink stickers declaring “It’s Time to Count Everyone” have been sent to members of the gay and lesbian community, straight supporters, and participating organizations. If all goes as planned, the census office should receive a wave of hot pink as the census forms are returned sealed with the stickers.

If you’re not part of the LGBT community, and you’re asking yourself, “Why should I care who is or isn’t counted,”  the answer is simple.  An official count means official recognition.  And official recognition of our friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers for who they are and how they actually live their lives—including their sexual orientation—signals that we are moving steadily toward the promise of a more tolerant and socially just society.