We’re here, we’re queer, we count in the 2020 Census!

Census Illustration by Ash Cheshire

Contributions by:

●  Greg DeShields, Chair Philly Count LGBTQ+ Sub-Committee

●  David Bielenberg, Executive Director Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus

●  Zach Wilcha, Executive Director Independence Business Alliance

As mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, our nation gets only one chance every ten years to count every person in the United States.

The 2020 Census will require counting an increasingly diverse and growing population of nearly 330 million people in nearly 120 million households nationwide. To ensure an accurate count, the United States Census Bureau must build an accurate list of addresses, maximize the self-response operation and efficiently follow up with households that do not initially participate.

Information collected in the 2020 Census will be used to:

●  Determine our political representation at the national, state and local levels, including the number   of seats Pennsylvania receives in the United States House of Representatives

●  Distribute more than $975 billion in federal funding to states, cities and community organizations

●  Drive decision-making for small businesses, job creation, housing, infrastructure and so much more

The City of Philadelphia Complete Count Committee, chaired by Mayor James Kenney, guides and supports the efforts of Philly Counts 2020. Philly Counts 2020 leads Philadelphia’s grassroots engagement movement to increase awareness and participation in the 2020 Census. As a way to ensure that everyone is counted, Philly Counts utilizes a data-driven strategy to target households in neighborhoods that have historically underserved and undercounted.

The LGBTQ+ Subcommittee is one of 19 subcommittees committed to promoting the importance and impact of the 2020 Census and empowering members of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community to participate.

In 2020, it is essential that every member of the LGBTQ+ community gets counted in the census, particularly to ensure that we have the resources we need after the COVID-19 pandemic. LGBTQ+ individuals will be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, due to higher rates of preexisting health conditions and the community’s complicated relationship to the healthcare system. A complete and accurate census count in 2020 will ensure that we can receive the contingency support we need after the pandemic, and that our community will be prepared in case of a future crisis.

While the 2020 Census is not equipped to fully represent the many diverse demographics within our community, it is still important for us, as LGBTQ+ individuals, to complete the questionnaire to the best of our abilities. For example, while an individual can identify on the questionnaire as a male or female living with or married to a same-sex partner, an individual cannot identify as non-binary.

A further limit of the census is that the only options for gender identity are male or female; there is no option for one who considers themselves non-binary, trans or any other gender expression. This shortcoming silences a variety of important segments of the LGBTQ+ community. Having to choose a binary gender identity on the census form is a traumatic experience for many members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The results of the 2020 Census will impact community resources that are used daily by members of the LGBTQ+ community. Did you know various programs receive funding as a direct result of the more than $975 billion in federal funding allocated to states based upon the US Census?  Take a look, here some you may not have known:

●  Medicaid

●  Student Loans

●  Section 8 Housing Vouchers

●  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

●  Low-Income Home Energy Assistance

●  Unemployment Insurance

●  Crime Victim Assistance

●  HIV Emergency Relief Project Grants

●  Senior Community Service Employment Program

●  Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS

●  Small Business Development Centers

To ensure that these programs receive the funding necessary to support Philadelphians in need, we need to ensure that every person is counted in 2020. Census data also determines where essential resources are located. By participating in the census, each of us is contributing to increasing the accessibility of resources in the LGBTQ+ community. Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community has made strides in recent years, achieving greater visibility, inclusion, and equity. It is important we maintain our representation and voice. Not filling out the Census, for the LGBTQ+ community, would be equivalent to leaving money on the table.

Philadelphia is fortunate to have a vibrant community of organizations and service providers with a specific focus on members of the LGBTQ+ community. Philadelphia is one of only a few cities that has a permanent Office of LGBTQ Affairs associated with the Mayor’s office. This office boasts the first-ever Philadelphia LGBTQ State of the Union and a local LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce – Independence Business Alliance – dedicated to representing business owners and other professionals who identify as LGBTQ+. Local groups such as the Mazzoni Center, which provides quality comprehensive health and wellness services in an LGBTQ+ focused environment, and national organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force all work tirelessly to strengthen and uplift the LGBTQ+ community.

Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community leverages support for LGBTQ+ youth, one of the most vulnerable subsets of our community. It is staggering to learn of the perils and dehumanization that face the young individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. These individuals are more vulnerable to homelessness, and often lack the guidance and support to achieve safety and stability in their lives. Some staggering statistics are:

●  4.2 million youth experience homelessness each year

●  LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ+

●  It is estimated that about 7% of youth in the United States are LGBTQ+, while 40% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ+

●  600-750 youth sleep on the streets of Philadelphia each night. 40% identify as LGBTQ+

We cannot afford for LGBTQ+ youth to be voiceless when it comes to the U.S. census. The U.S. census is important and can provide federal financial support necessary for healthy food and health care — priceless resources for LGBTQ youth if in a tough situation.

The services we mention can only continue and improve if the voices of those receiving them are heard through the Census.

It will take nothing short of a community-wide collective effort to make sure we will receive the services which move the entire community forward and protect the most vulnerable among us. Imagine the amount of financial support necessary for healthy food and necessary health care being reduced or eliminated because you did not respond to a few questions. Don’t let this happen! We must stand up for the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia to ensure we count!