March 29, 2017 at 5:59 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Census Bureau: LGBT omission the result of ‘no federal data need’

The U.S. Census has responded to complaints over LGBT omission from a report to Congress. (Image public domain)

Amid consternation over the redaction this week of proposed LGBT categories in a report on the upcoming U.S. Census, the agency responsible for the federal survey on Wednesday said the final report was decided over a “multiyear process” and the LGBT omission was the result of the lack of need for data.

John Thompson, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, wrote in a blog post the decision to omit LGBT questions from the annual American Community Survey was made despite a request from members of Congress.

“We carefully considered this thoughtful request and again worked with federal agencies and the OMB Interagency Working Group on Measuring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to determine if there was a legislative mandate to collect this data,” Thompson said. “Our review concluded there was no federal data need to change the planned census and ACS subjects.”

Thompson says the evaluation of content for the upcoming U.S. Census and American Community Survey began in 2014 in a coordinated effort with the Offices of General Counsel at the Department of Commerce. These agencies, Thompson wrote, examined “each subject to determine if it had a statutory or regulatory mandate.”

“Deciding these subjects is a rigorous, iterative process completed in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and coordinated across many federal agencies,” Thompson said. “In order for a subject to be included, there must be a clear statutory or regulatory need for data collection.”

The Census Bureau published the initial results of the review in a Federal Register Notice in May 2015, with an opportunity for public comment and agency feedback. The request from more than 75 members of Congress to add sexual orientation and gender identity as a subject for the American Community Survey came later in April 2016.

“In 2020, our goal is to conduct a complete and accurate census,” Thompson concludes. “The Census Bureau remains committed to reflecting the information needs of our changing society. We will continue to examine the effectiveness of decennial census and ACS questions to collect accurate data on America’s people, places and economy.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau delivered its report to Congress on the Subjects Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey report. The appendix of the initial report indicated the bureau was proposing questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the agency later issued a notice saying those categories were “inadvertently” included and redacted them from the report.

The blog post and accompanying documentation don’t shed any light on why LGBT categories were proposed in the appendix of the initial report to Congress. Moreover, the blog post doesn’t explicitly say when the decision was made to exclude LGBT questions from the decennial U.S. Census or the annual American Community Survey was made after the April 2016 congressional request. The Blade has a placed a request with the Census Bureau to seek clarification on whether the decision to omit the LGBT questions happened during the Obama or Trump administrations.

Meghan Maury, criminal and economic justice director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said the blog post from the U.S. Census “doesn’t address our concerns.”

“Director Thompson referenced a long and arduous process during which the Bureau coordinated with federal agencies,” Maury said. “We know that as a part of that process, a number of federal agencies articulated in detail why there was a federal regulatory need for the data.”

Maury added the blog post is “misleading” by stating the standard for inclusion of categories in the American Community Survey is a “statutory or regulatory mandate.”

“Although many of the included questions are mandatory or required under federal law, a number of questions are included based on programmatic need – ‘the data are needed for program planning, implementation, or evaluation and there is no explicit mandate or requirements,'” Maury said. “At the very least, we call on the Census Bureau to apply the same standard to inclusion of questions on sexual orientation and gender identity as it does to other questions on the ACS. There is a clear programmatic need for these questions, as laid out by federal agencies in the process mentioned by the Bureau.”

The redaction ignited a firestorm among LGBT advocates, who had been pushing for the inclusion of LGBT questions in the more detailed annual American Community Survey, and denounced the redaction as an attack from the Trump administration. Neither the U.S. Census, nor the more detailed American Community Survey, has ever included LGBT questions.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was among those expressing discontent with the redaction of LGBT data from the report, calling it a “malicious move” in a statement and the latest in a series of Trump administration actions against LGBT people.

“Today, the Trump Administration has decided that LGBT Americans shouldn’t count,” Pelosi said. “By excluding LGBT-specific data collection in the 2020 Census, the Trump Administration shows it does not even want to have the information needed to act in the best interest of countless American families.”

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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