May 25, 2016 at 2:05 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Grijalva to introduce bill to enhance LGBT data collection
Raúl Grijalva, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) (Photo public domain)

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is set to introduce legislation Thursday in the U.S. House that would require the U.S. government to enhance data collection in federal surveys on the LGBT population, the Washington Blade has learned.

The legislation, known as the LGBT Data Inclusion Act, would codify in law that inclusion of questions in questionnaires — such as the National Health Interview Survey, the American Community Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System — that would allow LGBT people to identify themselves as such to gain information about the population.

Grijalva, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement the inclusion of LGBT questions in federal surveys is important because data collection is necessary to create policy benefiting the LGBT community.

“Public officials draft and implement policies impacting the lives of everyone living in the United States – it is vital that they have robust information about the diverse communities within our populace, including the LGBT community,” Grijalva said. “The current lack of sound data about sexual orientation and gender identity in many federal surveys means we are ill-prepared to meet the needs of these communities. To go uncounted is to be unseen in the eyes of policymakers, which is why we must develop a credible and confidential understanding of these vulnerable populations we currently know too little about.

In 2011, former Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius committed to include LGBT questions in federal health surveys. Questions about sexual orientation were set for implementation, while those on gender identity were set for inclusion at a later time after a period of discussion.

Gay-inclusion in federal health surveys revealed LGBT youth are disproportionately inclined to engage in cigarette smoking. Out an estimated two million LGBT young adults in the U.S., more than 800,000 smoke occasionally. As a result, the Food & Drug Administration last month initiated the new campaign dubbed “This Free Life” that targets LGBT youth and encourages them not to smoke.

But many LGBT advocates are unsatisfied with the questioning. For starters, although sexual-orientation questions were included, the federal government has never implemented questions on gender identity. Amid discontent, the Obama administration has started an interagency review to evaluate federal data gathering for LGBT people.

Grivaja said in a statement the legislation he’s set to introduce will build on LGBT data collections underway within the Obama administration.

“I commend the administration for convening an interagency working group to discuss best practices for federal LGBT data collection,” Grivaja said. “This bill builds on the interagency working group’s success by making data collection within this community law. I urge my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to join me in ending those knowledge gaps by passing the LGBT Data Inclusion Act.”

The legislation builds on a bipartisan letter earlier this month led by Grivaja and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) urging the Obama administration to enhance LGBT data collection efforts in the American Community Survey, an annual survey produced by the U.S. Census Bureau that gathers information on the U.S. population.

According to the Grivaja’s office, the LGBT Data Inclusion Act is endorsed by 14 prominent civil rights groups: the Center for American Progress; the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles; the Human Rights Campaign; the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, the National Center for Transgender Equality; the True Colors Fund; Transgender Law Center; the National Center for Lesbian Rights; GLSEN; GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders; the National Black Justice Coalition; the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; the National Women’s Law Center; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Adam Romero, senior counsel and Arnold D. Kassoy scholar of law at the Williams Institute, said in a statement the legislation will aid the federal government and LGBT people alike.

“This legislation will help ensure that policymakers have the fullest information about LGBT people possible and can make decisions based on data and evidence rather than myths and assumptions,” Romero said. “By adding measures of sexual orientation and gender identity to federal surveys, we will gain crucial information about the LGBT population and all its diversity.”

Original co-sponsors of the bill, which has also been endorsed by the LGBT Equality Caucus, include Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif). A source familiar with the bill said the list of co-sponsors is expected to grow prior to formal introduction on Thursday.

Laura Durso, senior director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement the legislation will enhance “the picture of who LGBT people are and what we need to live healthy and secure lives.”

“The LGBT Data Inclusion Act of 2016 represents a new wave of LGBT equality legislation, a push for not just legal equality, but also true lived equality,” Durso said. “In a nation as large and diverse as the United States, understanding the varied needs and experiences of the American public remains necessary to crafting policy solutions that leave no one behind. LGBT people remain disproportionately likely to live in poverty, experience homelessness, and be unemployed, and while there may not be a silver bullet to solving these problems, in order to find answers, we must begin asking questions.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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