Updated: Mar 22, 2021
2020 isn’t just a leap year, an election year, and a now-postponed summer Olympics year. It’s also a census year, meaning that amidst these trying times, we have the opportunity to make sure every Rhode Islander is counted – including every member of our LGBTQIA community.
Every ten years, the United States undertakes what is often referred to as the “largest peacetime mobilization” – a constitutionally mandated effort to count everyone living in the country, regardless of immigration or housing status. The census is important because Lil’ Rhody, the tiniest state in the country, receives nearly $4 billion in funding every year based on census results. Simply put, that’s a lot of money – money that goes toward everything from roads and schools to healthcare and housing. The census also decides political representation at the federal, state, and local level. Due to a downward trend in reported population size, our beloved Ocean State is in danger of losing one of our two congressional seats. To combat this trend, many local organizations are participating in Rhode Island’s first ever state sponsored “Complete Count” project, aiming to increase census participation so “undercounted populations,” such as LGBTQIA folks, don’t fall through the cracks. And for the first time ever, the number of same-sex couples will be counted.
Though improvements have been made, it is important to acknowledge that the census remains flawed. Despite a lot of advocacy from the LGBTQIA community, there are no questions about gender identity and sexual orientation. The current questionnaire only accounts for “sex.” While the binary nature of the question can’t be helped this go round, you should complete this question. Census responses are confidential, and according to the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Queer the Census project, the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t cross-check its surveys with any other documents that may have your gender listed differently. As a trans and genderfluid person, these two options still feel insufficient and make me uncomfortable. But for me, it helps to think about how important this survey is, and that checking an arbitrary box says absolutely nothing about the validity of my identity. It’s okay to see the census as a means to an end, as we continue to push for more accurate representation in the future.
Thankfully there is no citizenship question on the 2020 census. There was an attempt to add a question about citizenship status and this attempt failed. The misinformation around the issue still contributes to the distrust many feel towards the census.
A key goal of Rhode Island’s complete count effort is to use community outreach and education to ensure everyone is aware of the facts and not deterred by misinformation. You can make a difference simply by filling out the census yourself for everyone in your household, and by encouraging your family and friends to do the same.
To fill out the census, please visit www. census2020.gov. If you have questions, contact me at: MinaA@thundermisthealth.org.
Thundermist Health Center is a Federally Qualified Community Health Center, serving Woonsocket, West Warwick, and South County for 45 years. For more info, visit thundermisthealth.org or call (401) 767- 4100 to schedule an appointment.