It has recently become public knowledge that the 2020 U.S. census will not include questions about sexual orientation. While this might not immediately strike some as a high-profile decision, the gravity of the American government’s choice not to take an interest in quantifying LGBTI+ representation has caused a stir in the LGBTI+ community, and rightfully so.
While Trump’s administration has taken the stance that such questions are inappropriate and overly personal, LGBTI+ rights advocates see things differently. To those members of a community still fighting to be heard and respected, the government’s unwillingness to recognize their growing numbers and role in America is truly alarming.
A Shift in Regime
The news about 2020 census questions comes less than a year into President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had his supporters and critics like any president, but among those who endorse Obama’s works, the advancement of progressive causes is held up as one of his greatest achievements.
The LGBTI+ community in particular made great strides under Obama, most notably earning the federal right to marriage. In 2016, at the end of Obama’s administration, more than 75 Congress members wrote to the Census Bureau to request that questions about sexual orientation be added to the American Community Survey. It is exactly that request that has been denied under Trump.
Has History Repeated Itself?
From a rhetorical perspective, the obvious issue with this decision is that it signifies the government’s withdrawal of support for the progressivist movement.
A first-class citizen doesn’t expect to entertain any more government involvement in their life than another first-class citizen, because they enjoy all the benefits that come along with that status. Hence, government involvement in the lives of these citizens is seen as a nuisance. However, the same cannot be said for minority populations like African-Americans and the LGBTI+ community.
For a minority citizen to advance beyond their oppressed status requires attention. Take, for example, the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the advancement of African-American civil rights.
Many scenes from the civil rights movement are turbulent and even tinged with violence, but without drawing attention to itself and pushing the boundaries, the movement would never have made advances. Civil rights remain a pertinent topic of conversation today, thanks in part to the endorsement of the U.S. government, and there is still much work to be done.
In the famous 1954 court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the government moved to strike down the “separate but equal” doctrine established a half century earlier in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. Some LGBTI+ activists hold that this current census committee choice smacks of the old separate-but-equal doctrine.
Are LGBTQI+ People Getting Separate but Equal Treatment?
Much like Plessy v. Ferguson, a historic court case in 1996 seems to have set the tone of rights relations for LGBTI+ people. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court established that separate protection under the law was unconstitutional, but in the defining case in the gay rights conversation, Lawrence v. Texas, it seems justices left some wiggle room that is still being taken advantage of.
Lawrence v. Texas expanded on the outcome of the 1996 case of Romer v. Evans, in which the court upheld that certain types of discrimination against gays, for example in employment and housing matters, were unconstitutional. When John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner challenged the charges of sodomy brought against them, the court provided protection under the statue of their right to privacy, not equal protection under the law.
Trump’s Empty Promise
In the years since Lawrence v. Texas, the LGBTI+ community has advanced its cause a great deal and earned acceptance in many places where it was once shunned. The Obama administration showed commitment to continuing this progress, but now with Trump’s people choosing to turn a blind eye, there is fear that government assistance is going away.
LGBTI+ Americans can’t fight for their rights, or even make use of the ones they have, if the government doesn’t infer that they exist. If the government keeps going in the direction it is, we could see confusion and lack of resources when it comes to the processes of same-sex marriage, consumerism rights and even divorce.
In choosing not to include information about gays, lesbians, transgender people and other members of this substantial community in the census survey, the message Trump’s administration sends is not one of respect for privacy. It is the message that you are no longer considered important.
In situations like this, if the government cannot uphold what is right from a moral perspective, enemies of the movement will seize the chance to spread hate and misunderstanding. That is the real loss here, that even while claiming to be a champion of “free speech,” Trump would rather turn a blind eye than risk insulting the bigots who got him elected.
By Kate Harveston, journalist and political blogger