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Census Bureau Seeks Advice On LGBT Populations

The National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations is the first group to be tasked with addressing LGBT issues that arise in implementing the once-a-decade census. Could a "gay count" come in 2020?

Posted on October 12, 2012, at 5:45 p.m. ET

Michael Nagle / Getty Images

Fifth Avenue during the New York City Gay Pride March on June 24, 2012.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced Friday that it is seeking advice on how to address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations in implementing the once-a-decade census.

The census, which has never counted LGBT people directly, has indirectly referenced gay people through its count of same-sex married couples and "unmarried partner" households in the past.

With the formation of the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations, however, the Census Bureau today stated that it will be seeking advice from the 31-member committee "on topics such as housing, children, youth, poverty, privacy, race and ethnicity, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other populations." Specifically, the Bureau noted, the committee will provide advice on "a wide range of variables that affect the cost, accuracy and implementation of the Census Bureau's programs and surveys, including the once-a-decade census."

Although it is not clear whether a possibility of counting LGBT people directly through questions about sexual orientation or gender identity could be under consideration, LGBT advocates say this is the first Census Bureau advisory committee that specifically includes consideration of LGBT populations in its mission.

In addition, among the 31 members appointed to the committee is Shane Snowdon, who heads the LGBT Health and Aging Program of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT political organization. Also named was Charlotte Patterson, a professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Virginia. According to her UVA biography "she is best known for her studies of child development in the context of lesbian- and gay-parented families."

The announcement stated the members were chosen "based on expertise and knowledge of the cultural patterns, issues and/or statistical needs of hard-to-count populations." In a statement announcing the committee's formation, Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau's acting director, said, "We expect that the expertise of this committee will help us meet emerging challenges the Census Bureau faces in producing statistics about our diverse nation."

Of Snowdon's appointment, HRC's vice president of communications, Fred Sainz, told BuzzFeed today, "Shane Snowdon’s experience with data collection and engaging the LGBT community will make her a valuable asset to the Census Bureau. We are proud that she will be serving on this committee and ensuring that our families are counted."

Gary Gates, a prominent scholar on LGBT populations with UCLA's Williams Institute, was named to the Census Bureau's Scientific Advisory Committee in 2011, but that committee's mission includes no specific inclusion of LGBT issues.