“I feel for you, but…”: How Improved Data Will Support the LGBTQI+ Community
By Meghan Maury, OSTP Senior Policy Advisor for Data Science
What we choose to measure matters. That’s why we are working together to build a Federal Evidence Agenda on LGBTQI+ Equity and why we’re asking for your help to make sure we get it right.
I remember the first time I went to the office of a member of Congress to discuss the experiences of homelessness and housing instability among LGBTQI+ people. I was a policy advocate with a national LGBTQI+ group, and was joined by colleagues from the LGBTQI+, homelessness, and housing movements.
I was there to ask for this Congressperson’s support for a piece of upcoming legislation. I started by briefly discussing the proposed law, then shifted to explain how much its programs and services would have changed my own life when I didn’t have stable housing.
I remember the member responded with, “I feel for you, but… my office can’t prioritize policies that only impact such a small handful of people.”
It didn’t feel like a small handful to me. From my perspective, it seemed like a whole universe of people. As a LGBTQI+ person — and especially as a nonbinary person — most people I know in my community have experienced homelessness or housing instability.
Yet, in that moment, I had a hard time pushing back. I didn’t have the numbers to back up what I knew to be true. Data on the number of LGBTQI+ people who have experienced homelessness was — and remains — extremely scarce. We lack consistent, robust data on the experiences of LGBTQI+ people across a range of life experiences: housing and homelessness, health care, the criminal legal system, immigration, access to public benefits, finding and retaining employment, navigating the foster care system, and many others. And we lack that data not because it’s impossible to collect, but because federal policies and practices have failed to fully count LGBTQI+ people.
The purpose of the Chief Data Scientist of the United States — whose team I sit on within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) — is to responsibly harness the power of data for everyone in the country. In that work, we strive to make policies using the best-available research and data, with scientific integrity as a guiding principle. But, how do you reach that goal when research and data are scarce or nonexistent?
That’s why in June, during the celebration of Pride Month 2022, President Biden established a new Subcommittee on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Variations in Sex Characteristics (SOGI) Data through the historic Executive Order on Advancing Equality for LGBTQI+ Individuals. As a Senior Advisor for Data Policy in OSTP, and as a longtime advocate for LGBTQI+ equity, I’m excited to serve as a co-chair of this working group.
By bringing together leaders and technical experts from across the government, and in partnership with LGBTQI+ advocates and people with lived experience, the new SOGI Data Working Group will develop a first-of-its-kind Federal Evidence Agenda on LGBTQI+ Equity, which will serve as a roadmap for the federal government to strengthen SOGI data practices. We will also coordinate with agencies as they produce SOGI Data Action Plans to identify where and how they will improve the collection of data on LGBTQI+ people and communities while safeguarding individual privacy.
We would appreciate your help in refining our understanding so that the Federal Evidence Agenda best reflects the needs of the community. If you would like to contribute to the conversation, please consider sending us your thoughts in response to this Request for Information, or through one of our upcoming listening sessions (more info to come).
Meeting our community’s needs cannot and should not wait for research and data. But with this historic opportunity to ensure that LGBTQI+ people are truly counted – that our data reflect our lived experience – we can advance more equitable policymaking for generations to come.