Accuracy in Media

Gay Americans have their moment in the spotlight on the U.S. Census after all.

After including questions on homosexuality in initial drafts, then removing them a year ago, the Census Bureau will ask couples residing in the U.S. to define their relationship as “same-sex” or “opposite-sex.”

“It really normalizes our experience on an American government form so that everybody looking at it and everybody filling it out sees that we exist,” Wendy Becker, who married a woman in Massachusetts in 2006, told HuffPost.

The issue flared up in the last week when a story from Mar. 29, 2017, reappeared on the NBC Out website dedicated to gay coverage. The story, headlined: “LGBTQ Americans Won’t Be Counted in 2020 U.S. Census After All,” recounted how questions regarding whether people were gay had been included in a draft of the Census but removed when the questions were released publicly three years ahead of the Census, as required by law.

Neither the Census Bureau, nor the Commerce Department, nor the Trump administration ever threatened to not count gays as they do other citizens. They just didn’t intend to ask whether people were gay.

Gay activists have pushed for questions on the Census since at least 2009, when a campaign appeared to encourage gays to place “Queer the Census” stickers on their forms. More than 100,000 did, according to the National LGBTQ Task Force.

But mainstream media and its friends in the gay activist community insist the questions are vital.

“Information from these surveys helps the government to enforce federal laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act and to determine how to allocate resources like housing supports and food stamps,” said Meghan Maury, Criminal and Economic Justice Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, in the year-old NBC story. “If the government doesn’t know how many LGBTQ people live in a community, how can it do its job to ensure we’re getting fair and adequate access to the rights, protections and services we need?”

Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director at Lambda Legal, a gay advocacy group, said the removal of the Census question – which has never been asked – amounted to an attempt to “erase LGBT people.”

But media outlets insisted the reluctance to ask detailed questions about sexual orientation but to include a question about citizenship amounted to the Trump administration helping its friends and hurting its enemies, according to a story at

“It’s a good time to remember that as the Trump administration is working to erase LGBT people, it is also falsely claiming it is required to ask if a Census participant is a U.S. citizen,” wrote HuffPost this week. “In other words, the Trump administration is weaponizing and politicizing the U.S. Census: erase the gays, target the immigrants.”

But there is a big difference between questions about sexual orientation and those about citizenship. It is unclear what difference it makes in the enforcement of federal housing and other safety net laws whether recipients of government programs are gay. But it does make a difference in a number of programs whether recipients are citizens. Indeed, non-citizens are forbidden to participate in most federal needs-based programs.

Still, Ari Berman of the liberal magazine Mother Jones wrote the questions are part of an effort by Trump to “rig the census” in an effort to “sideline minority populations in 2020” and “undermine democracy for decades to come.”

But she undermines her own argument later in the story. She asks a group of 25 Latina women if they had filled out the Census in 2010. “Only a few raised their hands,” Berman reported.

“They’re afraid,” she wrote, quoting a Latina woman who had been sent to urge people to participate in the Census. “’They tell you, ‘They’re not going to count me. The only count people with documents.’”

“Her friends who received the form threw it in the trash,” Berman added.  

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