Visibility Matters: Queering the Census

Pride Flag by John Carleton

Pride Flag by John Carleton

Like most college freshman, I lived in the dorms paired with a random roommate I’d never met before. My former roommate Chelsea is a nice person. Score one on the freshman roommate lottery. However, Chelsea had grown up in a small town — smaller than our tiny 2,000 student liberal arts college — and I was the first openly queer person Chelsea had met.

(Or at least thought’d she met as one of her close male friends came out later that year. He also pinged my gaydar when he stayed with us to try out for American Idol and hopped into bed with his SpongeBob SquarePants pj bottoms.)

While certainly not a bigot, I felt Chelsea still struggled with having me being an out bisexual and very active with the LGBT group on campus. At least at first. But by the end of the year, Chelsea even came to a few events as an ally and had a great time.

It’s the little things. It’s knowing openly queer people that makes straight people realize the impact when gay rights pop up on the ballot. Knowing that voting affects real people, people you know, is different than the abstract concept of ‘gay marriage’ or ‘hate crimes.’ And this is where the U.S. Census comes in.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is running a campaign called Queer the Census, where they send you a sticker to put on your census envelope. It reads: ATTN: U.S. Census Bureau, It’s Time to Count Everyone! and then there are check-boxes to mark your sexual orientation and/or gender identity, including a box for our straight allies.

My census — but not my sticker — came yesterday. It asks who lives at my address, if we rent or own, name, sex, age, race, if I live here all the time, all the same information about my partner, and how my partner’s related to me.

During the 2000 Census, I remember how surprised many statisticians were about how many people identified as mixed race. I’d love to see the same surprise about how many queer-identified people live in the United States. In my personal experience — likely extremely skewed — the estimation of 1 in 10 has always seemed low to me.

Counting’s important. Not everyone’s out and not everyone can be out. Being queer isn’t something the farmer selling me parsnips at the Farmer’s Market knows by looking at me. But maybe it’d be better if he did know. I am a loyal customer, supporting his business. On the flip side, it’s also nice to say, I am not alone. I am so not alone.

There will be a sticker counting me on my census.

About Erica

Erica McGillivray spends too much contemplating the socioeconomic importance of the bananaphone. Ring, ring, ring. Bananaphone. She loves bunnies, soap opera plots in comic books, and dreams of flying in the stars. Erica works for Moz in inbound marketing, which means sometimes, she'll talk about that.
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5 Responses to Visibility Matters: Queering the Census

  1. Amy B says:

    Very well said. I am really – proud? if that’s the right word – of how you’ve said it all so succinctly and convincingly.

  2. voz says:

    and then there are check-boxes to mark your sexual orientation, including a box for our straight allies.

    Way to erase transgender people. Not. Impressed.

  3. Erica says:

    @voz — After thinking about your comment, I realize that you may have been directing it toward my wording. I didn’t mean to leave out gender identity in that sentence, and I am sorry if you felt that sentence erased transgendered people from my post.

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