Don’t discount the count

Editor's Note

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: August 4, 2012 in Editor's Note

In our July 21 print issue, qnotes teamed up with the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte to present our special “InFocus: Charlotte” edition. One of the special section’s featured stories, “The Queen City Count” (goqnotes.com/16052/), profiled Charlotte’s same-sex households with information culled from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. In the end, we were able to map out the neighborhoods and areas of the city most popular with same-sex households.

You’ll notice I used the words “same-sex households” are used, not “couples.”

The debate over word choice sprang up briefly in our comment sections when a reader commented on what he saw as an overwhelmingly tiny number of “same-sex households” in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

“Another way of looking at this data would be that a little more that [sic] one-half of one per cent of Mecklenburg’s 398,510 households are same-sex couples,” the reader noted.

I have not done the math on the reader’s comment. First, I hate math. Second, there’s no need; the ideological point he is trying to make is clear: The number of gay people in Charlotte is miniscule.

But another reader responded in kind, pointing out the difference between “couples” and “households.” Though in our coverage, we occasionally interchanged the word “households” for “couples.” The word choices might seem incidental, but the linguistic difference between the two is key to understanding the data in its full complexity.

As noted in my last Editor’s Note column (“The counting of LGBT Charlotte isn’t complete,” goqnotes.com/15993/), the census numbers tallying the number of LGBT people in Charlotte is only one small glimpse into the total population here. Because the census counts only couples who live together in one household and who also identify themselves as such, it is impossible to know the full and most accurate count of LGBT people living here or anywhere else in the nation.

The census does not count same-sex couples who might live together but chose not to divulge their unmarried relationship. It also does not count LGBT people who might be in a relationship but do not live together and does not ask demographic questions on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, thereby leaving singles and many couples uncounted.

{democracy:98}

We can only guess where single LGBT people and LGBT couples who don’t share the same home live. No doubt, the gap in this population measurement is frustrating. It also provides an easy target for our community’s opponents and naysayers. They can point at census data that is incomplete and craft political spin that makes it seem as though the LGBT community is much smaller than it might actually be if all self-identified LGBT people were counted equally and fairly.

As I wrote last issue:

“…[T]he census numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story. In neither the census nor their American Community Survey does the U.S. Census Bureau include demographic questions on sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, there’s no way to track how many LGBT people actually live in the U.S. or track the places and neighborhoods they call home. It’s an unfortunate reality that leaves people like me and a whole slew of friends uncounted when demographers, media and community members start talking about gayborhoods and gay demographics.

“Take, for instance, my own neighborhood. Windsor Park sits adjacent to Country Club Heights, a neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of same-sex couples in the city. Windsor Park itself has a fairly large number of same-sex couples. But, the current counting scheme will never do neighborhoods like mine justice. They do not count me or at least a dozen other single LGBT people whom I personally know live there.”

Our coverage of same-sex households in Mecklenburg County is interesting and newsworthy in and of itself. It’s exciting to look at the map of the county and pinpoint your own neighborhood and its proximity to places more popular with gay people. One might even find themselves living in area we dubbed one of Charlotte’s “gayest ‘hoods.”

In the end, however, we are left with gaps of information that makes any reporting on gay demographics a mere guessing game. It is important to remember that our community is larger and stronger than these woefully inadequate numbers alone.

Anti-gay activists will fight tooth and nail to keep our government’s official headcounters from asking about sexual orientation and gender identity. They know, as we know, that a full count of LGBT citizens and residents would push our movement for equality and fairness further than we’ve ever gone before. Without these important demographic questions and data included in the census, it remains easy to ignore that which is left unmeasured.

Until LGBT people are fully included in our nation’s decennial census, we should not discount the only count currently at our dispposal. The numbers, however incomplete, are there. Same-sex couples are building families and homes together in nearly every census tract and county across this great nation. Finally, gay families are getting the attention they so rightly deserve. And, one day, even us single gays will count, too. : :

— For more information on efforts to advocate for a fully-inclusive census, visit the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s “Queer the Census” at queerthecensus.org.