If We Believe In Equality, Shouldn’t The Transgender Community Be Part Of The US Census?


By Danika McClure

Laverne Cox caused the transgender tipping point last year when she graced the cover of TIME magazine. Since her appearance on the reality television program, ‘I Want to Work for Diddy’ and subsequent appearances on ‘Orange is the New Black’, the actress and activist has been traveling the country taking the pulpit for Trans and race issues. This month, however, Cox took on a new issue: The US Census.

With the recent fame of people like Cox and Caitlin Jenner, television shows like ‘Transparent’, and films with storylines centered around a trans narrative (despite their sometimes problematic nature in regards to casting), it’s all too easy to forget that the transgender community, until very recently, was unfamiliar to most people.

Census data as it exists currently includes only two options for gender identity: male and female. Therefore, the census isn’t gathering accurate data for the trans experience, as it assumes that everyone is born into the gender they will identify with for their whole life.

This is an oversight that has far reaching consequences when you consider that we don’t even really know how many trans people exist in the United States, much less the world. It’s difficult to argue that current leadership is being ethical in this omission, as you can’t prioritize public interest and advocate for social equity when they have no way of accurately measuring the demographic they serve.


“What message are we sending to those who are trans and gender nonconforming when we don’t even count them?…We suggest that their identities don’t even matter,” said Laverne Cox at the 2015 Social Good Summit.

Gary Gates, an LGBTQ demographer at the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, which studies sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is responsible for the most frequently cited estimates of the LGBTQ population. The data is based on two surveys.

One, a 2009 study in Massachusetts cites that 0.5% of respondents ages 18-64 identified as transgender. The other, a survey done in California in 2003 looked at trends of LGBT tobacco use, found that .1 percent of adults in California identified as transgender. Combined, and with substantial limitations, the two surveys approximate that the transgender population is around 700,000 people, or .3 percent of the U.S. population.

Gates has spent a majority of his career trying to convince survey writers to better include LGBT Americans in their research, and major breakthroughs have been made. In 2013, the Center for Disease Control’s National Health Interview Survey included a section on sexual orientation. Because of this, nationally representative data is available for the first time on lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans. Data regarding gender identity is still off the table, for now, a practice which Gates describes as a demographic malpractice.


Unfortunately, progress in the LGBTQ community is often made in a series of small steps with a narrow focus. So while we may have won the right for marriage equality over the past year, and gay pride parades have become cultural destinations, many other important issues, such as homelessness, violence, and poverty in the trans community are virtually ignored. This is highlighted by Raquel Willis.

“We’re at an interesting turning point now. Any day now, we could be hearing that our country is finally ready to respect our humanity and our right to love and be recognized beyond gender…It’s great, but as I’m a trans woman and activist, my focus has changed…I’m regularly worried about adequate health care and doctors who know what’s up with my body. I’m lucky now, but there was also a time when I was worried I’d be outed and lose my job. Then I’d be in the spiral of homelessness that consumes much of my community,” she said.

“It’s true. Trans folk often have much more urgent things to worry about, like finding restrooms, validating educational spaces, housing, and more. As well, I can’t help but think about all of the trans women my community has lost this year. It’s difficult when the larger queer community, which arguably has more social power and influence, ignores the fact that we can multitask…We can be more that a single-issue movement,” she added.

Cox, along with a panel consisting of Shelby Chestnut, from the Anti-Violence Project, and Cecilia Chung, of the Transgender Law Center, discussed the ways this lack of data affects the trans population–arguing that violence against trans people exists, in part, because they are not counted as a valuable population.


Chestnut pointed out that in 2015 alone, there have been 19 homicides of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and of those 17 were trans women of color. Cox suggests that this type of violence is directly related to inadequate data. When speaking about solving the cycle of violence against trans bodies, she said:

“I was thinking that visibility is only part of the equation…we must have social policy, systemic change. And then I thought about the Census. Systemically, this idea of the gender binary is very much institutionalized in the fact that we just don’t count trans people.”

Chestnut added that by pushing for Census data collection, we’ll see proof of the systemic issues that trans people face: housing discrimination, underemployment and employment discrimination and lack of gender affirming education.

If we had appropriate data to examine the ways in which Trans people are marginalized, it would be easier to allocate funds and resources to put an end to systems of violence which disproportionately affect them. And as Chung pointed out, in order for any government to effectively serve their citizens, they need to know who their citizens are.

Change is needed if equality is to be a reality. The inclusion of the transgender community into all aspects of life is not just important to them, but for us to have an increased awareness of the struggles they face, and in turn become better allies and more understanding. Remember, our differences don’t have to divide us or become a negative force unless we allow it. The more we speak up and become agents of change, the more social justice and governmental change, such as data needed to include transgender people in the census, becomes a reality.



Danika McClure is a musician from the northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a TV show. She likes chips and guacamole, Drake, and angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion. You can follow her on Twitter @sadwhitegrrl.



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