The 2020 Census: What is It and Why You Should Fill It Out

The 2020 Census is happening, and it's critically important that LGBTQ+ people fill it out! Keep reading for more information about the importance of the Census for LGBTQ+ families, and what improvements we're still fighting for.

Last Updated: May 8, 2020

The federal government is required by the Constitution to conduct a census every 10 years to count every person living in the United States and its territories (regardless of citizenship). The data collected by the Census is critically important: it is used to set electoral boundaries directly impacting our democracy, to make decisions about federal programs and the allocation of taxpayer funding, and for civil rights advocacy, among other things.

Census data can also provide a detailed picture of what families in the United States look like and what issues they are facing. Family Equality wants LGBTQ+ people and their families to be visible, so it is imperative that all of us participate. If you or someone in your household have not already done so, please fill out the 2020 Census. Time is of the essence!

2020 Census Action Alert

Has your household completed the 2020 Census?

How the Census impacts democracy, social programs, and civil rights advocacy

2020 Census Website (
The U.S. Census Bureau website

The Census is mandated by the Constitution, and the data collected from it is used to establish state and federal voting districts and distribute representative seats in Congress. From a newborn baby to someone who is over 100 years old, the total count of individuals from the Census and where they live is used to determine the number of congressional districts in a state, their size, and geographic shape.

There are 435 voting members of the House of Representatives, and how many Representatives each state receives is based on that state’s population. So, if the total population in your state is undercounted, your state may have fewer Congressional representatives than it should have, meaning your state would have fewer votes in Congress.

This matters because the congressional representative from your district votes in Congress on what kinds of programs and benefits your family and others in your community will have access to and the level of funding each program will have. These programs include Head Start, Medicaid, Section 8 voucher programs, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to name just a few. Accurate data about who is living in each state – and each congressional district – provides lawmakers and advocates with the crucial information they need about the composition, needs, and demographics of each state and the communities living therein.

But, that’s not all. Census data is also used by activists, attorneys, service providers, and policy makers to advocate for change and show the unique needs and demographics of communities – including the LGBTQ+ community. Data collected from the Census is used by attorneys to help enforce existing civil rights laws and constitutional protections.

For example, demographers were able to use data collected in the 2010 Census and related Census Bureau data collections such as the American Community Survey to  gather information about LGBTQ+ people and their families that has proven helpful in litigation and in policy work about marriage equality and LGBTQ+ families.   

The Census and LGBTQ+ people

Although there are not specific questions in the Census about sexual orientation and gender identity, demographers can glean important information about the LGBTQ+ community from our answers to questions on the Census about our relationships. More specifically, when describing your relationship with other adults living in your household, the answers allow you to report your relationship with a same-sex or different-sex spouse or unmarried partner.

From there, if you have children who live with you, you are asked to count them and your relationship with them. This is an improvement from the 2000 and 2010 Census, which counted same-sex couples indirectly through questions about gender and relationships. The newly worded question on the 2020 Census is expected to provide more accurate data about the number of same-sex couples living in the United States and its territories.

However, we still need to fight for more improvements to the Census!

  • Explicit questions about sexual orientation and gender identity would provide a more accurate and complete count of the LGBTQ community, instead of providing data only on those who are cohabitating with a spouse or partner.
  • We must provide additional options for answering questions about parent-child relationships that reflects our diverse family structures.
  • Instead of forcing respondents to identify themselves and family members as “female” or “male,” the Census should provide a third option for individuals who identify as non-binary.

While these deficiencies in the 2020 Census may feel frustrating and discriminatory, it is important that we fill out the 2020 Census as accurately as possible. We need as much information from the 2020 Census as we can get so that we can make the case for adding more explicit questions and more answers that reflect our community and families to the 2030 Census.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community, like many marginalized communities, have historically been undercounted by the Census. Other marginalized communities subject to undercounting include communities of color, immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, and those with lower incomes – as well as renters, single parents, and very young children – all of which overlap with the LGBTQ+ community.

As a result of undercounting, marginalized communities are underserved by government resources while white and wealthy people and homeowners have tended to be overcounted, resulting in resources being funneled into those more privileged communities, rather than the communities with the greatest need. To read more about undercounted populations, go here and here.  

2020 Census Forms

What questions are on the Census?

The Census is a short survey that takes approximately ten minutes to complete. One person in each household should fill out the Census for the entire household. There are nine questions on the Census, with seven additional questions for each person living in the household.

The questions relate to the number of people living in the household; the type of residence; the name, age, race, ethnicity of each person living at the residence; and, the relationship of each person in the household to the person completing the Census. You can view the specific questions, with an explanation of each question here. The Census does not ask any questions about citizenship. Everyone should complete it and be counted, regardless of the citizenship of the person filling it out or anyone else living in the house.

Given that we have worked closely with HHS over many years (and, in fact, were among the LGBTQ+ rights groups who supported the codification of the 2016 rule) and that we will need to continue to work with HHS in the future, suing HHS was not our first choice.

Deadline for completing the Census

You should fill out the Census as soon as possible. While you may have heard that April 1, 2020, was “Census Day,” that was a reference day, not a deadline. This means, on whatever day you fill out the Census, you should fill it out as to who was living in your household on April 1, 2020.

There is no hard deadline for filling out the Census, but it is important to do so as soon as possible. The Census Bureau will report the results for the 2020 Census to Congress and the President at the end of the year, so don’t keep putting it off — get counted now!

How to fill out the 2020 Census

You can complete the Census online, by phone, or by mail.

If you haven’t already done so, fill out your Census today!

Additional Census Resources