An effort to be more inclusive or the federal government being too nosy? Democrats and Republicans took starkly contrasting views Tuesday of proposed legislation that would put voluntary questions about sexual orientation and gender identity on federal demographic surveys.
The Democratic-controlled U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform approved a bill requiring federal agencies that collect demographic data through surveys to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity, but no one would be required to give the information nor would they be penalized for refusing to do so.
Supporters of the legislation said it could help provide much better data about the LGBTQ population nationwide at a time when views about sexual orientation and gender identity are evolving and as right-wing extremists are firing up anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the committee’s Democratic chair, said the measure would help make data collection as inclusive as possible.
“By including this, we can ensure that our policies are more equitable and inclusive of the constituents we serve,” said Maloney of New York.
Republican committee members called the measure government intrusion and overreach at its most personal.
“We should be alarmed by this attempt by the federal government to gather such sensitive data,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona.
Republican committee members proposed amendments that would require the legislation to offer a definition of sex, only allow people to answer such questions about themselves and would limit the questions to adults only. Biggs also proposed an amendment that would require data collection of people in the U.S. illegally, in a discussion that referenced then-President Donald Trump’s failed effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
All of the Republican amendments were voted down.
The legislation was debated at a time when the Census Bureau separately is requesting $10 million to study over several years the best ways to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity for its annual American Community Survey, and as President Joe Biden declared June as LGBTQ “Pride Month.” It also is taking place as some Republican-dominated state legislatures have restricted what can be discussed about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools and banned transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports.
Some federal agencies already ask about sexual orientation and gender identity, but they are limited primarily to health and criminal justice surveys. The once-a-decade census and several Census Bureau surveys give same-sex couples a chance to answer if they are in a marriage or domestic partnership. But that omits LGBTQ people who are single or not living in the same household with their partner, and for the gender question, “male” and “female” are the only options.
The online Household Pulse Survey is the only Census Bureau survey that asks these questions, but it is categorized as experimental and may not meet some of the quality standards for the nation’s largest statistical agency.
Several Democratic House members on Tuesday also urged the directors of the Office of Management and Budget and the Census Bureau to add a category of Middle Eastern and North African, also known as MENA, for the once-a-decade census and other federal surveys.
The Census Bureau recommended adding a MENA category to the 2020 census, but the idea was dropped by the Trump administration.
Decades-old Office of Management and Budget standards have designated Middle Eastern and North African residents as white. Adding a separate MENA category would help guarantee that residents with roots from this region get federal resources and produce more accurate data, said the letter to OMD Director Shalanda Young and Census Bureau Director Robert Santos.
“Since members of the MENA community trace their roots to either the Middle East or North Africa, OMB’s standards fail to capture the lived experience of many community members,” the letter said.
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