The Government Doesn’t Count This One Group—and Activists Sa
The U.S. government tracks animals, parks, and websites. It examines people’s age, income level, and marital status. But one thing it does not track is the transgender population. Advocates see that as a big problem.
“They can count chairs, but they cannot count people,” Cecilia Chung, senior strategist at the Transgender Law Center, told TakePart. “We’re not asking people to like us. We’re just asking people to count us.”
Earlier this week, the activist helped raise the issue during a panel at the Social Good Summit in New York, where she was joined by Orange Is the New Black actor Laverne Cox and Shelby Chestnut, a codirector of community organizing at the Anti-Violence Project, a group that works to reduce violence against LGBT people.
“What message are we sending to those who are trans and gender nonconforming when we don’t even count them?” Cox said during the talk. “We suggest that their identities don’t even matter.” Her sentiments were largely echoed on Twitter, where droves of people used the hashtag #WeJustWantToBeCounted to show solidarity with transgender rights.
The gesture isn’t purely symbolic. Chung says if the federal government kept a record of the transgender population, it could save lives—and help shape public policy, shift the allocation of funds, and influence how transgender people experience everything from health care to the criminal justice system.
“We talk about violence—why there is such a crisis—but when we count 20 [transgender people] who had their lives taken away, we cannot count how many are alive,” Chung says, referencing a rough estimate of how many transgender people have been murdered in America in 2015. But even that number cannot be verified. “We don’t know how many have not been reported, because dead people cannot tell you their [gender] identity,” Chung adds. The missing link is the data. Related This Tiny Clinic Is Fighting for Trans Patients Illegally Denied Medical Care
The most commonly cited statistic about the transgender population comes from UCLA researcher Gary Gates, who estimated in 2011 that transgender people account for about 0.3 percent of the U.S. population, or roughly 700,000 people. But that number is shaky, and even Gates himself, a scholar at The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, acknowledges as much. In a July interview with the data-oriented news organization FiveThirtyEight, he said the estimate—which was derived from one survey in Massachusetts and another in California—has “substantial limitations.” His recommendation for more reliable data? A nationwide survey.
Naomi Evangelista, a spokesperson for the U.S. Census Bureau, says the government has no plans to begin tracking gender identity in the 2020 Census or the American Community Survey. She directed TakePart to an official statement that reads, in part, “Decisions on new content are reached through careful consideration and public input and linked to a federal, legislative, or programmatic need for the data.”