Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

If You’re LGBT, the U.S. Government Doesn’t Care about You. It Doesn’t Even See You.


Keith Haring’s activist art from the time when Ronald Reagan ignored gay men’s deaths.

The Economic Opportunity Institute just released a new report on the gay wage gap in Washington State. Read it here.

After same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015, many Americans came to the well-meaning but misguided conclusion that LGBT people were finally in the eyes of the government.

But the American government has never cared about LGBT people. It doesn’t even really see them.

In its huge decennial census and smaller yearly surveys, the Census Bureau works tirelessly to suss out the statistical composition of our country. Because of this, we know that 20,590 U.S. residents speak Irish Gaelic, the greeting card industry employs 14,162 people, and that 13,873 firms are Hispanic-owned in Illinois.

But these surveys don’t tell us anything about LGBT people. The Census Bureau has never cared to ask.

Since the times when the Reagan administration publicly and repeatedly mocked gay men dying from AIDS, no presidential administration has made adding LGBT people to government data a priority. The federal government doesn’t want to ask about LGBT people because it’s easier to ignore issues facing our community without data. If there are no reliable statistics, the government can pretend the problems don’t exist.

They do exist, and they are often getting worse – but we have to rely on universities and private studies to do this research because the federal government doesn’t care.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the LGBT community is by far most the likely to be victimized by violent hate crime – more than blacks, Jews, or Muslims. Of these anti-LGBT hate incidents, trans women bear the brunt of the attacks.

In terms of discrimination, 55 percent LGBT reported experiencing discrimination in 2017, over 44 percent in 2016. That’s a 25 percent increase.

LGBT people are also more likely to be homeless, incarcerated, or suicidal.

People are also less comfortable around LGBT people than they were in 2015. While 29 percent of Americans in 2015 felt uncomfortable with seeing a same-sex couple holding hands in public, 36 percent felt that way in 2017. Worse yet, 32 percent said they’d be unhappy learning a family member is LGBT in 2017, compared with 27 percent in 2015.

In the twilight of Barack Obama’s presidency, at least four federal agencies asked the Census Bureau to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the decennial census and the yearly American Community Survey. But Obama left office before that could happen.

In March 2017, the Census Bureau sent out a memo noting its plans to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity. That was immediately rescinded, with the Census Bureau concluding that there was “no federal data need” for information on LGBT people. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Health and Human Services concurrently dropped the few LGBT questions included in surveys they conduct.

In its reasoning, the government essentially said the LGBT community is too small to be worth counting. But even if you go by the smallest estimate of the LGBT population in America – 2.3 percent from the CDC 2013 – there are more queer people in the U.S. than there are total people in Washington or 37 other states. Imagine if the 2020 Census neglected to count anyone in Washington State because it’s so small, and instead inferred data and characteristics from its California count!


The number of LGBT people in America is definitely more than 2.3 percent, and perhaps as high as 8 percent. Researchers expect that number to continue increasing, as we’ve come a long ways since the 1990s when Bill Clinton said he wouldn’t want anyone in the military who’d “show up at a Queer Nation parade,” whatever that is. (My friend said he’s a card-carrying member. He’ll invite me to his next soirée and I’ll report back.)

A 2018 report from research center Boston Indicators found that nearly 16 percent of people ages 18 to 25 in Massachusetts identify as LGBT, but fewer than 3 percent of those ages 65 to 74. The demographics are changing faster than Barack Obama’s for it/against it/for it stance on gay marriage equality.

Pride isn’t just a celebration of culturally appropriating the rainbow from the Old Testament. It’s about fighting to be visible. When the government decides that data on LGBT are not important, that means the community remains uncounted in countless indicators that policymakers use to determine how various programs impact Americans who are urban, rural, women, African-American, blind, or other identities.

Martin Luther King, Jr.  said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” But the universe is not a rainbow – it doesn’t bend on its own. Same-sex marriage didn’t happen because the federal government realized it was the right thing to do. It happened because LGBT people fought for it. History is not on anyone’s side – it’s written by the victors – and we have to be counted in order to win.

The government will not care for you unless you force it to, especially under President Trump, who has rolled back every LGBT protection he can get his doll-sized hands on. Fight. Make the straights in power see you.

“Freedom ain’t free. Every day we have to wake up and fight for it. Every day we’s afraid of making a mistake.” – Janelle Monae, Seattle, June 11, 2018.

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