This guest post is written by Bob Witeck
A couple of weeks ago, our Census form arrived. As promised.
I wasn’t really surprised since the Census sent us a postcard telling us to expect it.
My husband and I planned to respond, but then figured we should probably take down our Christmas decorations first. Not to mention cleaning up after our New Year’s Party (I’m just kidding, we didn’t have a New Year’s Party and everyone knows that habitual procrastinators don’t need real excuses anyway.)
It did occur to me, however, that before we actually fill out the Census form, I should come up with the top 10 reasons why I ought to do it today. And that will buy me a just a little more time to think about it.
10. Congress requires us to respond to the Census just once every 10 years.
Well, it actually begins with our Constitution, which tells Congress to conduct a complete and accurate count of the American people every decade. After all, when you write and pass laws, it probably helps to know how many lives you touch, and how to improve them.
I have to admit following the rules isn’t as hard for me since I sat in first grade with Sister Mary Saint Mark. If you crossed a storm trooper with a nun, well, you get the idea. She was the law.
9. The Census is one of the best ways to make sure federal funding is shared and spent in fair proportions.
This is simple. My family included 2 parents, 4 sisters and 2 brothers when I was growing up, and every dinner, and especially every dessert was divided 9 ways. If we failed to count portions accurately, then I risked losing my equal 1/9th share of the prize.
Okay, we’re adults now, but the idea is actually pretty much the same. Federal dollars support highways and schools, medical facilities and environmental protections, many smart ways that fix or improve the services and facilities we have in our communities. Who doesn’t want a fair return for the taxes we pay?
8. Everyone’s doing it. Answering the Census, that is.
The 2010 Census forms have been sent to every address in America, and everywhere they can find people. It’s not easy, but they have made an amazing effort this year in countless languages and to many of the most distant and unusual places to invite us to fill out our forms.
What makes me most proud is that they’ve made an historic commitment this year to include all LGBT households as never before. They have dedicated many field specialists and contacts to work within our community groups to educate and recruit help, and we have even worked with our Census folks to establish a unique public education campaign, “Our Families Count” (www.ourfamiliescount.org) that couldn’t make it any easier to find out everything we all need to know.
7. Same-sex couples really do count.
Some of us are annoyed that not one of the questions in this year’s Census asks about sexual orientation, or about gender identity and expression. While there are questions about gender and about race and ethnicity, they won’t yet ask us if we also call ourselves lesbian, gay, or bisexual, for example.
I hope one day they will, but in the meantime, this year for the first time ever the Census form will enable many of us living in same-sex committed relationships to answer honestly and accurately how we define our intimate relationship with one another. I have been with my own husband for 15 years, and I regret we cannot yet lawfully marry nor register even as partners in our state – but that doesn’t stop us from telling the Census that not only are we adult partners of the same sex, but we also consider ourselves husbands. (And for my coupled lesbian friends, they can call themselves wives on the Census form.)
Some same-sex couples may not think of themselves as husbands (or as wives), and instead wish to answer that question by calling themselves “unmarried partners,” as they choose. That’s a perfectly fine choice too.
And in doing so, we will be able to be counted as we live, and described more accurately in the way we see each other. That is a major step forward, and why the 2010 Census probably matters most to me and my husband.
6. For transgender Americans, why not be yourselves too?
I cherish my friends who are transgender. They also tell me they have faced many more struggles than I have to be themselves and to be seen and accepted as the gender they are. And not necessarily the gender that was recorded on their birth certificate or often on their driver’s license.
But the Census doesn’t define you, you define yourself. If you live as a man, regardless of the driver’s license you may have or another piece of identification, be confident to tell the Census that you are a male. If you live as a woman, and regardless what your license or another identification card may say about you, then tell the Census you are a female.
I can’t say for sure but I think that is very liberating too, and one more way under the law, that we can truthfully be ourselves.
5. Our answers are private. Really.
I’ve checked the federal laws, and spoken with the folks at the Census. The brief information we share on the form is not shared with others. By law, our response is protected and used only for its intended purpose and that is to achieve an accurate count. It will not be shared with law enforcement authorities, immigration authorities or tax officers. No one else.
Some of us have reason to be anxious when we know other promises made are not always promises kept, laws or no laws. I’ve thought it over, and one way to ease our minds would be to keep supporting and sending contributions to some of the top legal rights and privacy watchdogs like the ACLU and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund – because I am confident they will also look out for us.
4. It’s easy. I mean so easy.
Let’s face it. For some of us sudoku is hard (my hand is up). So is completing the New York Times crossword puzzle and the 1040 IRS form. It’s easy to put off those challenges, since they tax the brain and really take time with no guarantee of success.
But the 2010 Census really is only ten questions in less than ten minutes. When my husband and I glanced at the form, and both of us prepared to answer it – the hardest thing for us was to decide who is Person 1 and who is Person 2 on the form!
I wish the U.S. Census would spend the next nine years rewriting our tax forms now.
3. By filling out the form and mailing it back, we can save millions of dollars.
Really? Yep, I checked. For each of us who takes the ten minutes to fill out our form and send it back, that just means the fewer doors to knock on, the fewer sidewalks and neighborhoods to navigate and the need to recruit and pay fewer workers to ask us to fill out forms in person.
That makes perfect sense, and if we save some dollars for the federal government, I hope that means we can save tax dollars and even benefit other programs that we really do care about.
2. When LGBT households answer the Census, it makes some people mad.
Huh? Well, imagine our adversaries and those leaders and organizations that are most adamant that we be denied our full, equal rights. Or tell us just to stay in the closet and never be seen, nor heard, nor counted. Some even have complained to the U.S. Census that we should not be counted as same-sex couples or as married couples under law in those jurisdictions where marriage equality is a fact.
For generations, many Americans have been spoon-fed lies and distortions about who we are, where and how we live. They often don’t want to believe that some of us are raising children or living next door to them, and they believe wrongly that we all are rich and privileged and mostly undeserving of equal respect and rights.
The Census is perhaps the one best way to put an end to some of the myths and distortions and to educate everyone about our families. I say it’s payback.
And finally, the Number One and best reason, having our community count fully and truthfully in the Census community is rewarding.
How can it not be? When we count ourselves, we count to others.
For years, we have fought injustice and inequality by standing up for ourselves and by being visible. Coming out is a first step in terms of acceptance and inclusion, and the best way that unfair barriers in workplace discrimination or the ban on serving openly in our military will be repealed.
The Census is not yet a perfect way to count all of us, but it is a real start. It is now and it will long be the gold standard in helping define truthfully who we are as American people. Lesbians and gay men, bisexuals and transgender Americans deserve to be counted,
It’s time to mail our form back today.
Bob Witeck is CEO and co-founder of Witeck-Combs Communications. He and his partner, Bob Connelly, live in Arlington, Virginia, where Bob Witeck is known as Person 1, and Bob Connelly is known as Person 2 (but not without a few coin tosses.) Bob Witeck is also a proud partner and media coordinator for Our Families Count (www.ourfamiliescount.org)