Thanks for keeping the census queer!

More than a year after the Task Force launched its “Queer the Census” campaign — a grassroots campaign to raise awareness about why data collection on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is critical — public education around the importance of LGBT data collection continues. A recent New York Times article called “Parenting by Gays More Common in the South, Census Shows” reminds us of the striking importance of our collective efforts to get data about our lives: Data helps tell the stories of our lives.

We are grateful for the efforts that so many people made to join with the Task Force to get the 2010 census to include data on same-sex married couples for the first time. This is a huge win for our community that shows the power of grassroots action. Through the work of the New Beginning Initiative advocating and agitating behind the scenes and through Queer the Census, which got nearly 150,000 LGBT activists and allies speak up to say “I deserve to be counted,” the Census Bureau listened.

Data can shatter misperceptions and assumptions about the LGBT community (e.g., that we all live in big urban areas).

For example, data show that 20% of same-sex couples are non-white, one in six same-sex couples live in rural areas, and same-sex couples live in more than 99% of U.S. counties. And while we don’t know for sure, estimates are that more than 30% of lesbians and around 20% of gay men are parents.

So, we know a lot about same-sex couples, but what about the rest of us? Not nearly as much. There are currently no major national surveys conducted by the government that ask about both an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

Data collection is not sexy.  And to some it may seem like it isn’t important or it doesn’t directly change lives like policies that protect us from discrimination or those that recognize our relationships. But data collection tells our stories in ways that help us to access much needed resources that can significantly change the plight of the most vulnerable among us.

The census allocates more than $400 billion every year based on what the government knows about communities from the census. This is why the Task Force, through the New Beginning Initiative, has made data collection a top priority. We are working to educate the community about the need for data and change government surveys that don’t ask about our identities or our lives. The outcomes of the Queer the Census campaign continue through the ongoing work with partners in the New Beginning Initiative to get the federal government to make changes on all sorts of government surveys so that we can better understand the needs of LGBT people across the country.