The Complete Count LGBTQ Sub-Committee, a group of the city’s LGBTQ community leaders, gathered last Thursday at the Cambria Hotel Philadelphia Downtown Center City to continue discussing how to encourage queer participation in the 2020 census.
The sub-committee is an initiative by PHL Diversity, a branch of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. About 15 of the roughly 25 people serving on the team attended the Oct. 24 meeting, alongside representatives from Philly Counts 2020, the City’s effort to support the next census — which will reflect household statuses as of April 1, 2020.
To help reach community members, an episode of PHL Diversity Podcasts will air in December and focus on the importance of LGBTQ folks responding to the census. Episodes of the podcast, in its fifth season, are produced every other week and focus on current affairs in Philadelphia.
“The idea of a [census] podcast is to provide insight and detailed information that perhaps people didn’t know in a way that is very much storytelling,” said Greg DeShields, PHL Diversity executive director and LGBTQ sub-committee chair. “It can be shared amongst their network about how important the count is and what it really means to them.”
Facilitated nationwide once every 10 years, the census helps determine representation in Congress, distribute more than $675 billion in federal funding and allocate job, housing, infrastructure and other resources. Survey results influence funding for social services including Medicaid, Section 8 housing vouchers and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A person who doesn’t participate in the census detracts $2,100 annually from the federal proceeds that could benefit demographics like the LGBTQ community, DeShields said at the meeting.
“It shows from the significant financial reduction and resources available to all citizens, including the LGBTQ community, that not being engaged is certainly a disadvantage,” he explained. “So we want to highlight and engage people and make them as likely to participate as possible through as much information that we can make available to them as possible.”
Sub-committee members recently answered community questions about the census at OutFest, the annual celebration commemorating National Coming Out Day that took place in the Gayborhood this month. On Sept. 17 — Constitution Day — the City orchestrated Census Champion training programs that educated more than 2,200 people on how to help people get involved with the census. Sessions are ongoing.
On Nov. 9, those who have completed a 90-minute Census Champion training can attend the Action Leaders Summit, a day-long program focused on training and planning for census participation at the neighborhood level. Representatives from the National LGBTQ Task Force, one of the nation’s oldest queer advocacy groups, will also attend the summit to discuss national efforts of increasing LGBTQ participation in the federal survey.
The LGBTQ nonprofit recently released a 2020 census guide detailing why the queer community should care about the data collection effort, the impact the survey has on LGBTQ-specific resources and how to answer questions that may present problems for some community members.
The census restricts “sex” identification to “male” and “female,” leaving many trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming folks wondering how to fill out the question — and consequences for leaving it blank. Another question asks about relationships between household members and provides options including “same-sex husband/wife/spouse” and “same-sex unmarried partner.”
While these responses build on the options provided in the 2010 Census, which was the first iteration of the survey that explicitly captured data on same-sex married couples, the National LGBTQ Task Force indicates the changes still do not accurately represent all members of the community, including bisexual and trans people and those living in “complex households” composed of “multiple family members, families, friends and other LGBTQ people.”
The task force urges LGBTQ people to fill out the census to ensure social services funding for the community. Its guide states it is “unlikely” but “a possibility” that the U.S. Census Bureau could follow up with those who choose to leave a question blank.
The bureau is also prohibited from sharing census data that identifies individuals with anyone for 72 years, the task force says. The LGBTQ advocacy group recommends folks self-identify on questions however they feel most represented and that the $500 fine given to those who provide false answers “is not intended to punish people who answer the questions in a way that better reflects who they are with regard to their name and sex,” but rather to ensure each household only submits one survey.
“Since the Bureau doesn’t cross-check the information you provide on the survey with any other source, it is okay if you respond differently to the Census than how you would normally answer an official government survey,” the National LGBTQ Task Force’s census guide reads. “Additionally, it doesn’t cross-check the information you provide on the Census with any other personal identifiable information you may have provided on other documents, including your birth certificate or driver’s license.”
DeShields previously told PGN that folks should fill out the census based on the gender denoted on their federal documentation to avoid penalties or legal consequences.
The next LGBTQ sub-committee meeting will take place Nov. 22. Census survey collection will largely take place in March and April.