Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, right? Well, here’s a new one for you. The Trump administration has “erased” questions about sexual orientation and gender status (?) from the upcoming 2020 census forms. Darn those scalawags and their endless, nefarious plans! What will they think of next? As we’ll explain shortly, this story is almost entirely vaporware but you couldn’t tell from the media coverage it’s receiving. It seems to have started with an announcement from the National LGBTQ Task Force with the enticing headline of, “We’ve Been Erased!” From there it exploded at places such as Out Magazine, inevitably leading to coverage at The Huffington Post.
The next census won’t include questions related to sexual orientation or gender identity, the Census Bureau announced Tuesday, a move that’s drawn sharp rebuke from LGBT rights organizations.
A draft of subjects planned for the 2020 census, the next year the decennial survey will be conducted, initially had a proposal to include sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time. However, that inclusion was not listed in the finalized report delivered to Congress this week.
Sure sounds like a devious Trump plan to wipe out the LGBTQZHIJK (or whatever the acronym is this week) community, right? But there are a couple of problems with this particular story line. First of all, the two versions of the proposed census questions being examined go back quite a ways. The document which listed “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” as a category was prepared well over a year ago and was a draft of a work in progress which had been going on for some time. In it, that category is clearly listed as one which was “proposed” but had not been finalized. (They consider new categories covering a variety of topics every decade.) The final document came out this month, but had obviously been through a number of refinements. Something that bulky and encompassing wasn’t getting entirely rewritten at the last minute. Odds are it was near its final form well before this. Trump has been in office for all of two months and a few days. With all of the fires his team has been alternately starting and putting out over that period of time, does anyone honestly believe this was even on his radar?
Further, let’s see who Trump put in charge of this evil scheme. The person currently running the program over at the Census Bureau is John H. Thompson. He was appointed to that lofty position in August of 2013. (Remind me again… who was the president then?) Given all the leaks coming out of every nook and cranny of the White House these days, if Trump had sent somebody down to strongarm Thompson on this bit of paperwork, don’t you think we’d have heard about it? Further, as even the Huffington Post article concedes, those questions have never appeared on the census in the entire history of the project. Shouldn’t you have been yelling at Barack Obama about it for the last eight years?
The reality is that the census has grown into a gigantic, complicated mess over the years and there are constant reviews and arguments over what shows up in it and how it’s conducted. NPR actually had a good analysis of it this month, delving into the details of the various questions which are asked, why they are on there and what happens to the data. Most of this has grown far beyond the original description of the census, or the “enumeration” as it was called in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The founders apparently thought it sufficient to simply count all the people in the country for purposes of “representation and direct taxation” without trying to analyze every aspect of their lives. (Okay… not all the people back then, but you get the general drift of what I mean.)
I still have to wonder if this is something anyone is really fighting over. We already ask all sorts of questions which probably shouldn’t be the government’s business, so what’s a few more at this point? But if they fail to include this or that slice of demographics it’s difficult to see the “harm” being done.