The 2010 Census promises to be a historic moment for LGBT Americans. For the first time in the institution’s 220-year history, same-sex couples who identify themselves as husband and wife will be counted and reported separately from heterosexual couples.
In addition, the number of same-sex couples who refer to themselves as unmarried partners will also be counted and reported.
The census represents a snapshot of the American population that’s taken every ten years. Census forms should arrive on or around March 15. Officials say they should be completed and returned in its self-addressed, stamped envelope by April 1.
One of the biggest changes in this decade’s census is that people can respond the way in which they self-identify.
But while gay and lesbian couples living together will be counted, no category will identify LGBT singles.
And while no question asks for sexual orientation, same-sex relationships will be extrapolated from the information that’s provided.
Officials stress that all census answers are completely confidential, and that no one will be ‘outed’ as a result of their census responses.
In addition, no one will know how a particular individual answered their census form. If someone’s parents believe that person lives with a roommate and they answer “married” in the census form, that information remains entirely confidential.
“We take an oath for life that all information will remain confidential,” said Jay Fresquez of Pompano, a census volunteer. “That means we’re subject to a $250,000 fine and five years in prison, or both.”
“Believe me, I’m not going to tell your landlord how many people live in your apartment,” Fresquez added. “I just collect data.”
For the census’ first 200 years, LGBT Americans essentially didn’t exist. That changed during the census’ Bicentennial year, although it happened as a fluke.
In 1990, the U.S. government began to collect data on heterosexual couples who were unmarried. This was the opening that permitted same-sex couples to check the census box for “unmarried partners,” followed by answering their genders.
That year, about 190,000 same-sex couples revealed themselves. The data was not tabulated by the Census Bureau, but analysts were able to find the numbers by sifting through the bureau’s raw data.
Ten years later, around 600,000 same-sex couples “came out” in their census responses. Again, the data wasn’t tabulated by the Feds, but it didn’t matter: a major corner had been turned.
Utilizing the bureau’s raw data as well as numbers taken from government surveys, a number of groups—including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) Policy Institute and the Williams Institute at UCLA—produced the very first extensive statistical analysis of same-sex couples.
Gary Gates, senior demographer at the Williams Institute, says the numbers were revealing.
“The  census data undermine[d] many of the stereotypes that often work against LGBT people,” Gates said. “Same-sex couples look a lot like married [straight] couples. They’re raising kids, they don’t all live in urban areas, they own homes, and they serve in the military.”
There was bad as well as good news to be found in all that data.
“We learned that more than 250,000 children were being raised in same-sex-headed households, but those children had poverty rates twice those of children raised in heterosexual-married households,” reports Che Ruddell Tabisola, the national LGBT partnership leader for the U.S. Census Bureau.
The census is one of the few mandatory requirements of the federal government, outlined in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.
It determines the number of members each state sends to the U.S. House of Representatives, and helps with deciding where $400 billion in federal funding for hospitals, schools, and public safety goes.
Analysts say the 2010 Census will be the most important yet for LGBT Americans. For the first time ever, same-sex couples who call themselves “husband” and “wife” will be counted, with the results reported separately from straight couples. And the number of same-sex couples who identify as unmarried partners will also be counted and reported.
The census has partnered with a number of organizations to encourage participation. San Francisco-based Community Marketing will be conducting focus groups in Fort Lauderdale on March 10, as a subcontractor for the Census Bureau. There is a fee paid for those selected to participate.
“There are a number of groups to fill and at this time we are looking for gay men or lesbians in relationships, with or without children,” says Glen Fishman, projects director for Community Marketing.
“Since we need to balance groups, we especially need women over 40 and men without college, but we do still need a broad range of people,” Fishman added. “Anyone interested should call us for a short phone interview at 1-888-330-8610.”
HOW TO COMPLETE THE CENSUS:
Each household will fill out one form. Person 1 answers 10 questions. Persons 2 through 6 have seven questions to answer. Persons 7 through 12 fill out just their name, sex, age, and birth date, and check whether or not they are related to Person 1.
For Persons 2 through 6, the second question is, “How is this person related to Person 1?” There are 14 choices given. If “Husband or Wife” or “Unmarried Partner” is checked and both persons are the same sex, they will be counted as a gay or lesbian couple. If “Roomer or Boarder” or “Housemate or Roommate” is checked, they will not. The other choices are a variety of familial relationships and “Other Non-relative.”