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From Stonewall to stats

Commentary
June 26, 2020By Audrey Mechling

The first Pride was a riot. It was a riot against police harassment and violence towards the LGBTQ+ community, a riot led in part by trans women of color.

This history feels especially pertinent today, as Pride month coincides with massive, country-wide protests against police violence perpetrated against Black people. Today, just as during the Stonewall riots 51 years ago, Black queer femmes are among those leading the calls for liberation.

Despite the greater public visibility of LGBTQ+ communities since Stonewall, they remain hidden in government data sets that serve as the basis for tracking the economic well-being of other communities. Their almost complete exclusion from census and other government data sets makes it difficult to fully grasp the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community and hampers their ability to advocate for equity in resources.

Much of the analysis that is done to shine a light on the economic reality faced by Oregonians relies on data from the census, conducted every ten years, and the American Community Survey (ACS), conducted annually. The census and the ACS are the basis for research used to point out racial inequities in housing, to show that people live in poverty despite being employed, and to breakdown who exactly works minimum wage jobs. Knowing what disparities exist in Oregon is vital to being able to advocate for meaningful change.

It is not easy to do this same level of research for the LGBTQ+ community in Oregon. While it is clear from personal stories, and from patchwork data collection that the LGBTQ+ community faces numerous barriers to economic success, the largest data sets collected by our country intentionally erase the LGBTQ+ experience. Despite requests by federal agencies to include questions on sexual orientation to these data collection efforts, neither the census nor the ACS collect adequate Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) data. The only place the census acknowledges LGBTQ+ identity is by measuring households with same-sex married partners, leaving out the experiences of unmarried queer people, bisexual people who are in opposite-sex marriages, and the trans community. This is in part due to the fact that the Trump administration blocked questions concerning SOGIE data from being added to these forms.

This means that analysis on the poverty rate for the LGBTQ+ community, or research on how race and sexual orientation and gender intersect, must rely on costly surveys that are not always updated on a regular basis.

The erasure of LGBTQ+ lives from data exists beyond just the census and the ACS. Government forms that collect demographic information often exclude SOGIE data. For example, the Unemployment Insurance application in Oregon includes an optional section allowing applicants to provide information on their race, ethnicity, and binary sex, but not gender identity or sexual orientation. While SOGIE data is sensitive, advocates and researchers have done the hard work of detailing how and when it should be collected on government surveys, and in settings like child welfare agencies.

When datasets exclude particular communities, it makes it harder for those communities to advocate on their own behalf. It is difficult to argue for increased resources, or for the creation of population-specific programming when the scope of the need hasn’t been quantified. Decision-makers often look to quantitative research and hard numbers when deciding what policies to prioritize and where funding should be allocated. For example, the federal government uses census data to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars every year. Right now, the LGBTQ+ community lacks this key advocacy tool available to other communities.

This Pride month, as we honor the Stonewall riots and celebrate LGBTQ+ identities, we also recognize that there is so much more work to be done to liberate LGBTQ+ communities, especially LGBTQ+ communities of color. One of those steps is demanding that our governments stop erasing LGBTQ+ experiences.

Posted in Poverty & inequality.

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