When Jay Brooks first came out as gay to his parents at the age of 15, they were baffled.
“We had such religious roots that it seemed directly against my family’s wishes,” said Brooks, who grew up east of Gainesville. “I didn’t have a voice until I really stood up for myself and let them know that I wasn’t changing who I was for anyone and that I was going to be acknowledged and heard.”
Despite years of fighting to have sexual orientation acknowledged, Brooks and members of the LGBTQ community’s identity will continue to not be counted in the U.S. census, despite false hope from the draft census.
Three years prior to each survey, the U.S. Census Bureau is required to release the categories they plan to track. On March 28, it released a draft of the 2020 census. The usual categories, including ethnicity, age, occupation, income and school enrollment, were all included.
This time, there was a new category: “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”
But just hours later, the original document was replaced with a new one that no longer included the gender identity category.
— The Task Force (@TheTaskForce) March 28, 2017
In a blog post on March 29, U.S. Census Bureau Director John Thompson published the following:
“There have been a number of questions raised about the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity due to an error in the appendix of the report. Our proposal to Congress was that the planned subjects remain unchanged from the 2010 Census and will cover gender, age, race/ethnicity, relationship and homeownership status. It did not include sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Equality Florida Public Policy Director Hannah Willard said it’s just another way for the Trump administration to chip away at the safety and visibility of LGBTQ people in America. She also cited a recently repealed Obama-era executive order that enforced discrimination protection for federal employees.
“Our community has experienced an explosion of visibility and forward momentum of rights and protections through marriage equality and through state level victories,” Willard said. “To be able to track that data, to be able to track that progress in the 2020 census, is vital.”
Some local members of the LGBTQ community said they, too, want to be included.
Joe Antonelli, president of the Gainesville Community Alliance, went door to door as a census worker in 2000. He said it’s important under this administration for their population to be counted.
“We don’t have laws protecting us,” Antonelli said. “Why wouldn’t they want to put that in there?”
But not everyone wants their orientation included on the census.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s business to know peoples’ sexuality,” said Connor Gill, who came out as gay his sophomore year of college at the University of Florida. “I think that could be used in more discriminatory ways than any way that has benefit.”
UF sociology professor Tanya Koropeckyj-Cox, an expert in U.S. population issues and trends, said knowing the demographics of the LGBTQ community could be extremely beneficial.
“Whether it’s making policy decision or making funding decisions, having the data is important,” Koropeckyj-Cox said. “Not knowing much about peoples’ actual household and relationships and sexual orientations might make it harder to measure whether there is discrimination or whether there are needs or inequalities that need to be addressed.”
For now, Antonelli said he’ll continue his activism for the LGBTQ community, which he’s been doing for 54 years.
“We are part of the country,” Antonelli said. “It would be nice to identify us without having to self-identify.”