Nepal Includes Transgender Individuals in National Census
Before I sent in my 2010 census form, I stuck a big pink sticker on the envelope and checked “bisexual.” Along with my girlfriend and many of my friends, I participated in the Queer the Census campaign sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a movement to disclose one’s sexual orientation on the census even though the form doesn’t ask for that information. Since the first census in 1790 and the subsequent establishment of the Census Bureau in 1902, there have been no questions pertaining to sexuality or diverse gender identities. I chose to let the Census Bureau know my sexuality—whether they wanted to or not—because that identity is as important to me as my gender or race, and just like those identities, it affects my life every day. As more countries move to recognize the importance of these particular statistics, Nepal recently announced that including transgender as an option will be on its next census, which will be conducted in May.
Two years ago, the Nepali Supreme Court ordered the government to enact laws guaranteeing rights to LGBTQ individuals. Equality activists see the census announcement as a positive step in this direction. There's much evidence to support the importance of reporting and recording individuals' gender and sexuality, says Brad Jacklin, Program Manager at the Task Force, in an interview with Campus Progress. "These surveys provide data to support policies on safety, education, and health services, to name just a few uses for government data," he says, emphasizing that the census data informs where federal money is allocated as well as federal policy priorities.
The U.S. Census Bureau, for example, began asking about unmarried partners in 1990, and due to the advocacy efforts of groups like the Task Force, it agreed to count self-identifying married same-sex couples as actually married. "This change took us from being virtually invisible as married couples to being seen and counted," says Jacklin, though this was just the beginning of counting all LGBTQ individuals. Because of this change, however, Jacklin told me that the 2000 census indicated that 99.3 percent of U.S. counties contain same-sex couples—a remarkable statistic, given the distinct red vs. blue version of politics surrounding the LGBTQ debate.
Of course, simply adding a few questions—or in Nepal's case, one answer option—to the census isn't going to quickly solve the entrenched discrimination that LGBTQ folks face around the world. Nepal's first openly gay parliamentarian, Sunil Babu Panta, who also runs the Blue Diamond Society advocacy group, expressed cautious optimism about what the census decision means for transgender Nepalis. “This shows that the government has started to recognize them,” he said to reporters, “I hope this will help to ensure their rights. But challenges remain for the community as they have often been forced to leave their villages and taken refuge in cities due to discrimination.”
Similarly, much of the value of adding sexuality and gender options to the U.S. census rests on the outcomes of that data: It remains to be seen if the census will result in increased public health services for trans individuals, for instance, or more inclusive public policy around same-sex couples' rights and benefits. None of these measures can be put into place, however, without an accurate count of LGBTQ people living in the United States.
While Nepal will implement the third gender option during its decennial census this May, the Task Force and like-minded groups continue to lobby for similar changes in the United States. Jacklin explains that the path to inclusion is long, but that time is on the side of those advocating for LGBTQ rights: “We started early. While the 2010 census has passed, we have until 2018 to get an LGBTQ question added to the 2020 census.”
And what about those big pink stickers? “The campaign was a huge success!” Jacklin enthuses. “The Task Force sent out 140,000 such stickers and received 30,000 petitions to send to the Census Bureau demanding LGBTQ inclusion. LGBTQ people and our allies were clear—we understand that the more hard data we have about who we are, the more we can build political power and will to achieve full equality for LGBTQ people and their families.” Nepal has shown exciting initiative by counting transgender individuals, and hopefully the U.S. and other countries won't be far behind.
Jessica Mowles is a staff writer with Campus Progress