No, LGBT Rights Are Not and Should Not Be Dependent on Census Questions

This week's fake outrage confuses welfare spending with equal government protection and blames Trump.


Census 2010
Jim West imageBROKER/Newscom

This week in ginned-up Donald Trump administration outrage that distracts from actual issues: The Census will continue to not ask questions that they haven't been asking about LGBT people. This in some quarters has been presented as some sort of LGBT "erasure." It's not.

At least when activists within the LGBT and progressive community freaked out about the possibility of an anti-gay executive order coming from President Donald Trump's administration, there was actual documentation. It turned out that Trump was not interested in signing such an executive order and it never came to be. But at least there was smoke to be concerned about if not an actual fire.

Such is not the case with this week's LGBT anti-Trump outrage, which turns out to fundamentally be less about gay and transgender rights and more about organizations who want a slice of the great federal spending pie.

To explain: The U.S. Census put out a proposal earlier in the week for questions it may ask during the 2020 census. Sexual orientation and gender identity were among the potential discussion topics. This was not something the Census had asked previously, which you know if you've participated in a census, ever.

Then, the Census quickly explained that it had not intended to include the questions about sexual orientation and gender identity this time and withdrew the topics. So the Census, which had never asked people if they were LGBT before, is not planning to ask in the 2020 census either.

Cue the outrage. The first headline I saw came from Out Magazine, a top gay-targeted publication. The headline read "Trump Administration Omits LGBTQ People from the 2020 Census." My initial reaction was "Woo hoo! I don't have to participate in the census!" But even before reading I suspected that wasn't what the story actually meant.

The Trump administration is not omitting LGBT people from the census, and a writer actually analyzing how the announcement played out notes that the Trump administration might not have even played any role in the consideration of the questions at all. Even Snopes has gotten into the act with an explainer.

What actually happened is that the National LGBTQ Task Force, an activist group with an open, stated agenda of having these questions added to the census, put out a press release declaring their unhappiness in seeing the questions get deleted. I don't use "agenda" as a negative here, and I don't necessarily see an issue with the Census Bureau asking people their orientations for demographic purposes, as long as it's made very, very clear that answers are completely voluntary.

But there is a deliberately misplaced outrage here that wants to trick LGBT people into thinking that their rights and equal protection under the law is dependent on whether the federal government knows that they're gay or transgender. This is a seriously unsettling proposition. Here's a quote from Meghan Maury, criminal and economic justice project director of the National LGBTQ Task Force:

"Today, the Trump Administration has taken yet another step to deny LGBTQ people freedom, justice, and equity, by choosing to exclude us from the 2020 Census and American Community Survey. LGBTQ people are not counted on the Census—no data is collected on sexual orientation or gender identity. Information from these surveys helps the government to enforce federal laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act and to determine how to allocate resources like housing supports and food stamps. If the government doesn't know how many LGBTQ people live in a community, how can it do its job to ensure we're getting fair and adequate access to the rights, protections and services we need?"

What does demographic inclusion in a study have to do with whether LGBT people are treated equally under the law? Nothing. The Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, for example, is a ruling precedent that makes it clear that rights and privileges extended by the government are to apply equally. It doesn't actually matter how many gay marriages there are (which, interestingly enough, is the one area that will be counted in the census). Rights and freedoms are not based on head counts or a demographic analysis of where people live.

This isn't about rights. It's about money. This is about organizations and activists who are hoping to use this demographic data to get a bigger slice of federal funding. And that's infuriating. Even were I to accept that the federal government is a good mechanism for filtering money down to local charitable non-profits (and it's typically not—check out the problems with Community Development Block Grants here), this is a clear attempt to try to use demographic-based funding as a replacement for funding mechanisms based on actual customer bases.

Using myself as an example: I'm a gay man living in Los Angeles. I am fortunate enough (thanks to Reason's many supporters) to live comfortably enough to not need these government welfare or health services. But if these services could include me demographically as a potential customer then they could lobby for more money. That I might never set foot in these places is not relevant. These are organizations that serve gay people, and I'm a gay person, so give them money.

Imagine if public schools could get funding based on how many school-age children live in their district instead of actual attendance? The corrupt consequences would make the school system an even bigger disaster than it is now. They would care less about outcomes. They would care less if students even went to school.

This incident of phony outrage is particularly offensive because it takes the goals of certain social and political organizations with agendas that not all LGBT people share and attempts to argue that this is a mechanism to protect our rights and freedoms. And furthermore, they're arguing that we should be giving up our privacy as gay people in order to do so! Maybe ask some Japanese-Americans how that worked out for them during World War II? (Spoiler: It didn't end so well.)