California bill would make state’s demographic data collection LGBT-inclusive

Citizen interactions with government bureaucracy are, in many cases, an exercise in data collection. When you go to a public health agency or the Social Security Administration, you fill out forms asking for your age, race, sex and so on. These data are then used both to facilitate your interaction with the government and for the government to account for trends in various demographic groups. If one group stands out from the rest as being at a significant disadvantage, those data can be used to make a case for government policy to eliminate the disadvantage.

But only if policymakers know the problem exists.

For instance, this Bureau of Labor Statistics report on unemployment breaks the national unemployment rate down by race, sex and age. It shows a massive disparity in the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate between white (4.4%) and black (10.1%) populations in March. It doesn’t show whether there’s a disparity in unemployment rate between gay and straight workers because it didn’t ask the question.

If it did, there’s reason to believe that we’d see a disparity. The available data show that the LGBT community faces disproportionately high rates of food insecurity, poverty, unemployment, substance abuse and suicide relative to their heterosexual counterparts.  However, many state and local governments don’t collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity when interacting with their citizens. This being the case, disadvantages that LGBT citizens face often go unreported, and therefore unaddressed.

California is one such example. While the state is well ahead of its peers when it comes to civil rights and non-discrimination laws, it lags behind when it comes to accounting for its LGBT citizens and, by extension, identifying trends in their economic and social opportunities. And as dry as bureaucratic data collection can seem, this has real consequences in the daily lives of LGBT Californians. If they aren’t counted when data are collected, then they don’t count when data are evaluated.

LGBT healthcare, via Creative Commons

LGBT healthcare, via Creative Commons

This basic lack of accounting in California has prompted the LGBT Disparities Reduction Act, which would require designated state agencies relating to health care, social services and aging  to allow for voluntary disclosure of sexual orientation and gender identity in conjunction with the collection of other demographic data. The bill would also require public disclosure of trends indicating disparities in wellbeing between LGBT and non-LGBT Californians.

The bill cleared its first procedural hurdle last Thursday, and is making its way through the California legislature.

The bill represents a small, simple addition to regular data collection procedures that will, over time, go a long way toward documenting, and by extension rectifying, disparate social, economic and health outcomes for LGBT Californians.

As Niko Kowell, Program Coordinator for transgender services at the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco, stated in support of the bill:

We want to be able to trust our health care providers to know more than we do about our health, but without data to reveal larger population-level trends, it’s hard—for them and for us…If we start collecting this data now, it might not help me, but it will help with the next generation of LGBT youth, especially transgender youth, in this country.

From healthcare to homelessness, an accurate accounting of how LGBT citizens are faring relative to the rest of their communities is essential if we are serious about providing an adequate and equal standard of living for everyone.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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