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May 2010 Email this to a friend
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Which box will you check?

By Joseph Erbentraut

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Gay advocacy groups campaigning to "queer" this year's census won a significant victory in April, courtesy of the US Census Bureau.
The government agency announced that it is encouraging gay couples who consider themselves married to check off "husband" or "wife" rather than "unmarried partner" boxes on their form.
Individuals identifying as transgender are also encouraged to select the sex with which they identify.
The announcement, part of an unpre-cedented outreach to the gay community, invigorated activists who have been working on the issue for several years but outraged many far-right pundits.
Opponents of the gay-inclusive policies argue that they fly in the face of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in addition to constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage approved by many states in recent years.
DOMA, passed under the Clinton administration in 1996, defined "marriage" as a legal union between a man and a woman and "spouse" as a person of the opposite sex. Citing DOMA, George W Bush's administration ordered that collected data on same-sex couples not be reported in the 2000 census.
Jaime Grant, head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Queer the Census campaign, argues that legislation is open to interpretation. She said she sees no violation of that legislation in the bureau's announcement.
"The Bush administration interpreted the Defense of Marriage Act to its political ends: to erase and denigrate our community," Grant told Guide magazine. "We're not asking for any federal benefits related to the census; we just want the bureau to accurately record data, which is their number-one mandate."
Peter LaBarbera, executive director of the Illinois-based Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, maintains that the bureau's move is a gimmick seeking "affirmation of [the homosexual] lifestyle." He and other social conservative activists would like to see the outreach efforts halted.
"What they're obviously trying to do is magnify the numbers of homosexuals in the society. This dates way back in the gay movement," LaBarbera wrote. "There was a time when homosexual activists just lied and said that 10 percent of the public was gay -- that was a bald-faced lie. It took decades to finally disprove that lie, but here again we see them calling themselves married because they want to be called married. Well, that's not what the law says."
Grant said she and other advocates are just beginning their campaign to make sure gays do not remain invisible. The Queer the Census campaign has, at press time, mailed an estimated 200,000 pink stickers that supporters can use to seal their envelopes, spreading the message that they'd like to see the community counted in full.
"I understand why the right is made nervous by this. They should be," Grant said. "The more visible our community is in the fabric of American life, the less they can spread their lies about us. Census data is enormously important in debunking those myths."
Grant said those who participate in the sticker campaign will be engaged to form an advocacy network pushing for further change as she aims for a fully-inclusive census in 2020, if not sooner, via the annual American Community "mini-census" Survey.
"Our work is far from done, and we will continue to push because we think it's an outrage that individual LGBT people are still not counted," she continued. "Without that question, we remain in the dark on major questions about our communities that hold serious consequences for our health, our families and our well-being."

Author Profile:  Joseph Erbentraut

Joseph Erbentraut is a Wisconsin-born freelance writer and editor currently living in Chicago. His articles on politics, music and culture have been featured in the Village Voice and other publications. He also blogs at Chicagoist.


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