As the typically dry process of preparing for the Census moves further into the political arena, Sen. Kamala Harris is pushing to add a new set of questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Harris introduced a bill in the Senate Tuesday that for the first time would require the federal government to ask the questions on the 2030 Census. The answers would help paint the most detailed portrait of LGBT America to date, providing a wealth of data that advocates say would help combat discrimination and put a spotlight on the challenges the community still faces.

“The spirit of the census is that no one should go uncounted and no one should be invisible,” Harris said in a statement. “We must expand data collections efforts to ensure the LGBTQ community is not only seen, but fully accounted for in terms of government resources provided.”

For example, the census results could help show that a government program to support the poor isn’t reaching transgender Americans, or suggest that a public housing agency is discriminating against gay people.

The bill, which Harris introduced with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., would require the U.S. Census Bureau to develop a set of specific questions on sexual orientation and gender identity within a year. The 2020 Census will already ask respondents whether or not they live in a same-sex partnership or marriage, but it won’t collect data on whether Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

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The Harris bill would also require questions on those topics on the 2020 version of the American Community Survey, a more in-depth questionnaire that’s taken by 3.5 million households every year. Several government agencies requested the survey include questions about LGBT demographics during the Obama administration, but the U.S. Census Bureau decided not to include them last year.

Rick Zbur, the executive director of the advocacy group Equality California, said the data could help fight back against attempts by the Trump administration to cut programs that are effective in helping LGBT people.

“This is really important in addressing the really significant disparities we see in health and wellbeing for the LGBTQ community,” Zbur said.

The push comes as the administration has added a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census, provoking worries that it would undercount nonresidents and families with mixed citizenship status and spurring lawsuits from California and other states. A federal judge in New York allowed one lawsuit against the question to go forward last week, ruling that it’s plausible the Census Bureau’s decision to add the question “was motivated at least in part by discriminatory animus and will result in a discriminatory effect.” There’s a hearing in California’s lawsuit next week.

An analysis published by the New York Times on Tuesday predicted that California would lose one seat in the House of Representatives if the 2020 census undercounted noncitizens living in the U.S. by 15 percent. Each state’s total population, including noncitizens, are used during the once-a-decade apportionment of Congressional seats.

Observers say the Census has become a political football because it’s so crucial for political and policy issues from redistricting to allocating billions of dollars in federal funds.

“It’s pretty clear that the Trump administration is politicizing the Census,” Zbur said. “It’s important that Senate and the Congress provide oversight for how it’s run.”

The Census Bureau did not respond to a request for comment.

Harris’ bill requires that the data from the new questions be subject to strict privacy rules, preventing the release of information that would identify individuals. Some advocates have worried in the past that collecting the sensitive data could put LGBT Americans at risk.

It’s not clear whether the bill has a chance to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, as it doesn’t have any initial GOP support. The bill has already received the backing of several of the Democratic Party’s biggest names, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kirsten Gillibrand, N-New York, and Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, who along with Harris are considered potential presidential candidates in 2020.


(c)2018 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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