LGBTQ advocates want data

Published: 10/27/2019 10:01:17 PM
Modified: 10/27/2019 10:01:13 PM

BURLINGTON — Local LGBTQ leaders say Congress needs to prohibit employment, housing and education discrimination based on sexual orientation.

At the Pride Center in Burlington last week, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., promised to push for legal equality for LGBTQ Americans under the Equality Act, a bill proposed in the U.S. House that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation passed the House in May, but has stalled in the Senate.

The bill faced scrutiny by GOP House members for infringing on religious liberties. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised he would be the “Grim Reaper” for any progressive bills headed his way in the Republican controlled Senate.

While Welch supports the measure, he is not optimistic the legislation will move forward.

“The baseline is that there’s got to be legal equality,” Welch said. “But that doesn’t establish equality and that doesn’t establish acceptance. So that’s where all of us have to be accepting and verbal and expressive about the legitimacy of other people’s choices or situations.”

The federal government has also blocked efforts to collect data about the LGBTQ community.

The Department of Health and Human Services has rolled back data collection about LGBTQ people since 2017. Without data, it is difficult to determine whether LGBTQ populations need assistance, activists said.

Amanda Rohdenburg, associate director for Outright, a nonprofit that supports young queer people in Vermont, said she’s particularly concerned that the Census does not ask for data about sexual orientation and gender identity. During the Obama administration, the LGBTQ community pressed for Census questions about gender identity, but that failed when the Trump administration shot down the effort.

“This invisibility gives permission to ignore an entire swath of the population that is highly vulnerable,” Rohdenburg said.

Rohenburg referenced a finding in the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior survey that Vermont youth who identify as LGBTQ are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers who are straight and cisgender (or not transgender). Rohenburg said these high rates are caused when people are isolated and ostracized, particularly by families.

Nearly 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Art Hull, a member of the Pride Center board, says social rejection over gender identity affects a person’s entire life and can lead to mental health issues and homelessness. He said LGBTQ seniors also face discrimination, particularly over housing.

Welch said he plans to advocate for additional Census questions about LGBTQ identity, an issue he said he previously did not know about. He acknowledged that the Trump administration’s aversion to LGBTQ data collection is an obstacle.

“The Trump administration is in lockdown mode,” Welch said.

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