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The power of being counted in the U.S. Census

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LGBTQ+ people have existed for as long as humans have been on the planet, but growing up LGBTQ+ can still be a lonely road.

Although there is evidence of LGBTQ+ people in the archaeological and historical records for as far back as we can look, people still ostracize or pathologize others for who they are and whom they love.

I was lucky because of those who forged a path and made themselves visible when it wasn’t safe to do so. I remember how excited I was when Ellen DeGeneres came out, but I still didn’t dare tell anyone at my high school on the west side of Buffalo, N.Y., that I was a lesbian.

It wasn’t until I joined the military, moved away from home and met other LGBTQ+ people that I felt safe enough, strong enough, to come out. Even then, it was a struggle to find acceptance and be seen. I, along with so many I know, can tell you what it meant to find others who identify as LGBTQ+ and to be counted as part of the community.

The 2020 Census will be the first to count LGBTQ individuals in some format. Individuals will be able to mark if they are part of a “same-sex” relationship, although gender identity and sexual orientation will not be included. Male or female will be the only options available, so it will not capture individuals who are born or identify as intersex.

Still, it is an historic milestone where we will be able to leverage federal dollars more than ever before for those in our LGBTQ+ community.

For example, Rainbow Community Center is one of many non-profits that relies on Community Development Block Grants. In 2016, California received a little more than $356 million toward state and entitlement Community Development Block Grants that are allocated to cities and counties based on the population reported in the Census.
The estimate federally for each uncounted person ranges from $1,000 to $1,700 per person per year depending on the program. That’s why it is so important to be counted.

Yet, every Census “undercounts” certain populations. An estimated 20 percent of Contra Costa residents are in “hard to count” tracts. This includes LGBTQ people, people of color, the unhoused, immigrants and people with disabilities.

Every person counted will help determine how billions in federal funding is spent each year on critical services, including education, health care, housing, senior centers and public transportation.

It can be scary to give out your information when you are part of a marginalized group, so here’s what you need to know:

  • Census responses are confidential, and there are strong laws protecting your data.
  • Under law, the U.S. Census Bureau cannot share an individual’s Census data with the public, state or local governments, immigration enforcement or other federal agencies.
  • Census data can only be used for statistical purposes and cannot be used to harm people who respond.
    There is power in being counted, and we can find strength in knowing there are many LGBTQ+ folks across the country. It will equate to dollars that in turn directly impact individual lives.

Combined with the many allies who support and love us, we can make a difference for so many for the next decade and beyond.

For more information on how to be counted, check rainbowcc.org in March or go to contracosta.ca.gov/­6999/Census-2020.

Dodi Zotigh is the board president of the Rainbow Center serving the LGBTQ community in Concord. Send questions and comments to Dodi@rainbowcc.org.

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