Advocates were mobilizing LGBTQ people everywhere for the 2020 census. Then the coronavirus pandemic erupted.

Advocates were mobilizing LGBTQ people everywhere for the 2020 census. Then the coronavirus pandemic erupted.

For decades, LGBTQ people have battled for a seat at the census table.

Then in 2020, there came a beacon of hope when same-sex couples living together were included in the 10-year survey for the first time, even though sexual orientation and gender identity questions were absent.

Advocates rallied the LGBTQ community, urging full participation.

Then in the midst of rollout this spring, a global health crisis erupted – upending lives and tangling census outreach efforts.

“The census is really important because it determines how much funding each state gets for social programs and representation in Congress. It directly impacts our communities and political power, it directly impacts lives,” said Glennda Testone, executive director of New York’s LGBT Community Center.

Now, the challenges are steep, Testone said. While New York – the nation’s original coronavirus epicenter – huddles under lockdown, digital efforts have ramped up.

But “door to door is a big part that motivates people,” she said. “Because of social distancing, people are not out there pushing the census. My fear is that the response numbers will go down.”

How the pandemic is impacting the count:Coronavirus is slowing down search for workers, could make it harder to count Americans

Before the health crisis exploded, advocates already had their work cut out for them, said Trevon Mayers, the community center’s outreach director. Many LGBTQ people were wary of releasing information because they feel they are living in a hostile climate lacking federal and state protections.

“There is apathy people have about taking part in a process that is not affirming,” he said.

Census letter.

Inclusion, then rejection: 'We've been erased'

While inclusion of same-sex couples was seen as a positive first step by advocates, the road to the 2020 census was a bumpy one.

In 2017, LGBTQ leaders were outraged after reports that the Census Bureau deleted questions on sexual orientation and gender identity from a draft census and community survey proposal.

Census Bureau Director John Thompson called the inclusion an “error.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force, which says it has been working to “queer the census” since 1990, lambasted the incident, crying “we’ve been erased.”

Brenda Churchill, 63, said being “erased” is what sparked her to “go all in in this effort to be counted.”

Churchill, a woman who identifies as transgender, is a census field supervisor in Bakersfield, Vermont.

“Although the proposed questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity were removed from the census, for each Vermonter counted there will be federal funds appropriated,” she said. ‘While we may be invisible to the current federal administration, we are very visible to Vermont's infrastructure.”

What is the census and how it is used:Here's what you need to know about the 2020 census

It is critical for people in her state to fill out the forms, Churchill said – particularly those in “marginalized communities that are often isolated socially, geographically and electronically” – because the information translates into political representation.

The shutdowns have complicated outreach efforts in her rural community. Many parts of Vermont don’t have broadband access, she said, and the state is lagging behind the national average for completing the online survey.

'A way for us to say we are here'

Wynston Sanders, 31, who identifies as a transgender man and a transgender queer, is disappointed gender identity and sexual orientation aren’t included in this year’s survey and people “don’t get to show their true selves.”

But much is at stake in Sanders' hometown of Greenville, South Carolina.

State lawmakers are weighing one bill that would block transgender high school students from playing on sports teams that are aligned with their gender identity. Another piece of legislation would restrict access to medical care for transgender youths.

“The census is way for us to say we are here, and we are going to push against bad laws and bills. It gets us to stand up and be counted even though we aren’t being counted,” Sanders said.

What is Census Day?Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks and other celebs urge Americans to answer census

Mayers agrees. LGBTQ people are part of populations “historically undercounted” in the census, and that can’t be downplayed this year.

“LGBTQ people are not monolithic,” he said. “They are people of color, immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, people living in rural areas.”

Issues brought to the surface by the coronavirus pandemic in many ways make census participation even more paramount, Mayers said. LGBTQ people need housing help, Medicaid programs, nutrition assistance.

Counting people of color:How groups are 'pulling out all the stops' to accurately count people of color

“There are tangible, real world implications,” he said.

The decennial count is used to distribute federal funds for everything from schools to roads to bridges to lunch programs. It’s also used to determine the number of House seats a state has in Congress.

Invitations to respond to the census by phone, online or mail arrived in most households by mid-March – just as stay-at-home orders took a grip. Census officials moved the deadline for people to respond to the survey from July 31 to Oct. 31. Even as states put a toe in the reopening waters, Zoom hubs, teleconferences and webinars are likely to continue to make up outreach.

Filling out the census form should be a “no brainer” for LGBTQ people, especially in these difficult times. Sanders said. “We are in the midst of a pandemic, and folks are just trying to survive. Jobs have been lost, lives have been lost, communities disrupted. … It is important to do this so we have representation.”


News Related


Trump’s ‘mission accomplished’ moment is premature and deadly. We have not defeated COVID.

Desperate for crowds and adoration, Trump has put his most fervent supporters at risk of getting a deadly disease. Future historians will be astonished. Read more »

NFLPA president JC Tretter says NFL is putting season, players at risk with its coronavirus approach

NFL Players Association president JC Tretter said Tuesday the NFL is putting the 2020 season at risk with its coronavirus approach, calling on the league to better “prioritize player safety.” “Like many other... Read more »

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he tested positive for the coronavirus

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity. Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and... Read more »

Venice Film Festival forges ahead amid COVID-19 pandemic with reduced lineup

The show will go on for the Venice Film Festival in September, but with a few modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers said Tuesday that they are pushing forward with plans for... Read more »

Amtrak offers buy-one, get-one promotion on its sleeper trains amid COVID-19 — with a catch

Amtrak wants you to have sweet dreams the next time you travel — so much so that it’s sweetening the deal on its sleeper “roomettes.” The rail service is offering a buy-one-get-one-free discount... Read more »

Florida teen treated with hydroxychloroquine at home before dying of COVID-19, report says

FORT MEYERS, Fla. – The family of a 17-year-old Florida girl who died last month from COVID-19 treated her symptoms at home for nearly a week before taking her to a hospital, a... Read more »

Mookie Betts worried MLB coronavirus testing woes could prevent him from ever playing for Dodgers

During nearly four months away from the game, Mookie Betts said he “stayed away from baseball to keep myself sane.” It’s not hard to understand why. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player... Read more »

Tom Hanks doesn’t get ‘how common sense has somehow been put into question’ with coronavirus

Read more »

Can Gov. DeSantis force Florida schools to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic? Some school leaders seem doubtful.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As concern about the state order spread online, some school leaders said: Not so fast. As Florida educators puzzle over how to start the new academic year, Gov. Ron... Read more »

Texas surpasses 200,000 coronavirus cases after 4th of July holiday weekend

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas reached 200,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit. The grim milestone came... Read more »