Why data collection matters to LGBT people

The U.S. Department of Labor yesterday released the most recent information collected in a survey called the National Compensation Survey (NCS). The release wasn’t anything special – the department does this several times a year. But what was special is the information in this particular release.

For the first time, the NCS asked employers about domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples.

For those of you who remember the Task Force’s successful “Queer the Census” campaign last year, you know why data collection like domestic-partner benefits is so important. Data collection on the LGBT community is vital to our success in achieving full equality. Federal, state and local governments make decisions every day based on data. Surveys reveal important information about how people live and what their needs are in areas of life as varied as health care and benefits, family, employment, housing, education, access to justice and more.

Without data that identifies the needs of the LGBT community, LGBT people remain invisible in the eyes of critical programs.

The NCS is a critical tool for measuring wages, employment costs and benefit packages of both private and public employees. Prior to yesterday’s announcement, there was no official government information on benefits available to employees in a same-sex relationship. Same-sex partners are responsible for each other’s financial and emotional well-being just like any other couple. Many major employers in the Fortune 500 recognize this fact by offering domestic-partner benefits. For so many same-sex couples, health insurance is outright unaffordable without the ability to enroll in a partner’s employer plan. By collecting data on domestic-partner enrollment, NCS will reveal how many couples rely on this benefit.

But the need for data doesn’t stop with the NCS.

The LGBT community is more than just same-sex couples. We need data to better understand why we suffer greater health disparities, what the needs of our families are and what will help us get better jobs to be more self-sufficient to name just a few things.

The U.S. Census is another powerful survey that impacts government decision making from top to bottom. In 2009, the Task Force launched its Queer the Census campaign that led up to the first ever count of unmarried and legally married same-sex couples in the 2010 census.

The Task Force is redoubling its efforts to include both a sexual orientation and a gender identity question on future census surveys.

We know that same-sex couples live in 99 percent of all U.S. counties, but having a clear count of how many Americans identify as LGBT will greatly strengthen our fight for true equality. Please like the Queer the Census campaign on Facebook to stay updated and get involved in this important campaign.