Changes made to the official census questionnaire don’t happen over the course of a few months or even years. More often than not they are the result of decades of persistence and hard work between advocacy groups and coalitions across the nation.
New options for racial identity, along with in-language translation assistance are being hailed as big steps towards a more inclusive and accurate census count. For the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (or queer) community, the addition of same-sex partners to mark themselves married or unmarried on question 3 is just one from a crucial list of improvements for inclusion the LGBTQ community hopes will spark more momentum and change to the census questionnaire.
Beatriz Valenzuela, Communications Manager and Press Secretary for Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization has seen firsthand the work by advocates and activists who pushed for change in 2020. From the “Queer The Census” movement to the availability of census kiosks, as well as celebrations planned to encourage census participation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Valenzuela says the addition to question 3 shows promise, but more work is needed.
What has been the general response within the LGBTQ community to being acknowledged in the 2020 census count?
Valenzuela: A lot of people were happy. This is something the LGBTQ community has been really pushing for a long time. Back in 2010, the “Queer The Census” movement had a push to include gender identity and sexual orientation on the census. Obviously, that question was not included, but there is that question on the census to identify who they live with as a same-sex partner, whether married or otherwise.
Are you finding that the addition to question 3 has helped with response rates?
Valenzuela: What we’re seeing in our outreach, first off, is that not a lot of people knew the same-sex option was available so when we started sharing that it was something you could do, there was a lot of positivity. It goes to the need for representation and being seen. Although there is still this sticking point that there is only male and female that you can choose from, the ability to still have some sort of representation is still a major positive.
In what ways are the various LGBTQ census coalitions working with other groups to encourage participation?
Valenzuela: We do a lot of sharing and outreach for each other. Our (Equality California) census outreach group is, at the very least on weekly outreach calls with members of other census coalitions. Those coalitions are made up of remarkably diverse groups, as we are not just part of the LGBTQ community. A lot of times, we are also part of other vulnerable hard-to-count (HTC) groups, including black, Latino, women, renters, people who experience homelessness. The LGBTQ community has been deemed one of these vulnerable populations, but we are also part of other vulnerable populations. So, there is some overlap in the intersectionality because of when we conduct outreach.
I’m a fluent Spanish speaker, and I can write in Spanish. We have some partners in the API (American Pacific Islander) community, and we share things back and forth, so I believe we’re doing a good job of sharing our messaging and also sharing their messaging. We also participate in different kinds of outreach for these different communities, including the black community. This week will be our week to reach out to the Latinx community and the (children) 0-5 population, who may the most undercounted population. There’s always room to do better and we do keep those lines of communication open.
What types of events were planned around the census prior to the quarantine and shutdown of operations?
Valenzuela: Like a lot of organizations and groups that had to suddenly pivot because of COVID-19, a lot of us had in-person events. I also know that some had planned block party-esque events. With this pandemic, those events were no longer safe to have.
On March 12th, we did a press conference along with several other organizations to say, ‘Hey, you can go ahead and start filling out your census online right now.’ As soon as we were done with that press conference, there was another press conference for the county essentially alerting to the first portions of the “Stay at Home,” “Safer at Home” plan. We were getting ready to tell people to come out to about a dozen census kiosks that different organizations have set up. You could walk into these kiosks and fill out your questionnaire. That had to change, and we pivoted almost immediately.
What types of social distancing activities did you conduct for Census Day?
Valenzuela: We went from planning these in-person events and getting ready to start door-to-door canvassing on April 1st to text and phone banking. Even before that, we had reached out to about 15,000 people through text and phone banking. Going door-to-door, I don’t know that we would have had that kind of interaction with folks. Our partners who had planned on having kiosks ended up joining our text and phone banking team all over the state. These organizations were able to turn around and start texting and calling people in their area.
We also launched our social media campaign. We were on Instagram doing questionnaires, asking people how they filled out their census form? Give us three emojis that describe why you filled out the census, and then you can tag three people and you can share it with folks.
The importance of an accurate count?
Valenzuela: More accuracy is always better. Just in the history of the census, where the ability to self-identify races and ethnicities began to grow, that provided so much more accurate information. So, to be able to take those extra steps for more LGBTQ representation would be amazing.
Talk to people, make sure that people understand that this is not just a want, but a need, a necessity. So many organizations use census data. Whether it’s research or allocation of funds, it’s so important. So, we will continue to advocate to have more questions that really do reflect and can accurately count the LGBTQ community including sexual orientation and gender identity questions.
See Also : Equality California Institute launches $1 million statewide LGBTQ census outreach campaign – Jan. 22, 2020.
Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.