Even though there is no question about sexual orientation on the 2010 Census, how you fill out the Census form you recently received can document how many same-sex couples live in the state.
If you are single, there is no way to indicate your sexual orientation on the Census form. But if you are in a same-sex couple, you can note that you live with an “unmarried partner” or a “spouse,” and then indicate the sex of that person.
“Census 2010 is a once-in-a decade opportunity to gain critical information about the LGBT community. It will provide accurate data to inform policies ranging from LGBT people serving in the military to marriage,” said Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute, which studies LGBT demographics.
“Making sure you are counted is just as important as voting,” Sears said in a press release. “While voting on a ballot measure might impact one of your rights; participating in the Census will impact all of your rights for the next decade.”
The resulting numbers can be invaluable when lobbying for LGBT rights, agreed Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality. The statewide LGBT political group has partnered with two national coalitions, Queer the Census and Our Families Count, to educate people on the importance of disclosing same-sex households on the Census.
“We routinely use Census data that has been compiled and analyzed by the Williams Institute to educate elected officials and policy makers on basic facts regarding the LGBT community in Georgia,” Graham said. “It’s important to remember that most people don’t have in-depth interactions with the LGBT community. Often what seems like bigotry is nothing more than a basic lack of knowledge.”
The federal government conducts a full Census every 10 years, and smaller American Community Surveys more frequently. The 2000 Census revealed 19,288 same-sex unmarried partners in Georgia, with some in every single county. The data also showed the couples to be racially and ethnically diverse, and revealed that 20 percent were raising children.
When the 2000 Census was conducted, same-sex marriage was not legal anywhere in the United States, and same-sex couples who identified themselves as “spouses” were reclassified as “unmarried partners.”
But over the last decade, several states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire have legalized same-sex marriage. For the first time in history, the 2010 Census will count same-sex “spouses” — even those who live in Georgia, where their marriages are not recognized under state law.
That’s part of what motivated Georgia Equality to launch a Census education campaign that included posters and messages through Facebook and its website.
“Not only is it important to make sure that all of these relationships are properly captured as part of the Census, but we knew that a number of married couples who live in states like Georgia might have questions about how to answer the Census,” Graham said.
LGBT groups are also lobbying for sexual orientation and gender identity questions to be specifically included on the 2020 Census.
Photo: The National Lesbian & Gay Task Force encourages LGBT people to mail back their Census forms with these stickers affixed to call attention to the lack of questions about sexual orientation and gender identity.