April 13, 2020

As a parent of a nonbinary child, you work tirelessly to have your kids seen, respected, and supported in every avenue of their lives. And now, with a request to respond to the 2020 Census’s request to identify the sex of each individual in the house as either ‘male’ or ‘female,’ there is heightened anxiety, or even frustration and fury, for nonbinary, genderqueer, trans and other individuals for whom the binary is insufficient to capture their identity. For you parents of nonbinary kids, there is further frustration, as you work to support and uplift your child, while still knowing the need to be counted and recognized in the Census to ensure delivery of crucial services to support families for the next 10 years.

First and foremost, know this: There is no single right way to answer this question for your nonbinary child, and it is important that you and your child answer in whatever way feels most right (or least wrong) for your child. Here are some guidelines, and hopefully helpful tips, for how to approach this very loaded question.

  • Don't feel pressure. Don’t feel pressured to list a response that aligns with the gender marker listed on an individual’s birth certificate or other ID document. The Census Bureau encourages self-identification, and does not check the information contained in a Census response against other documentation. Answer how you think is best, without concerns of fraud or confidentiality. If your child is old enough to understand why the Census is important, consider engaging them in a discussion of how they would like to be identified on the Census.  

  • Acknowledge the harm. Affirming our children includes validating their feelings about harmful questions and content. As parents, you have an opportunity with the Census to explain how it was created, what you and other families are working to do in the next Census, and also to explain how answering the question will help them with services that are important. Suggested topics to cover include:

    • How the Census data helps to determine the number of representatives your state has in Congress. 

    • How answering the questions this year, however painful or flawed, will help change the question from sex to gender in the next Census, through that representation; and

    • How accurate Census count benefits all members of the LGBTQ+ community through its allocation of funding for social programs, including SNAP benefits (food stamps), Medicaid, and community mental health services.

  • Take the time to respond online, by mail, or by phone. While answering a question in a way that doesn’t accurately reflect your child’s identity is uncomfortable, answering by mail, phone, or online--an opportunity that has now been extended due to COVID-19--will give you and your child time to talk, reflect, and make the choice that feels least damaging and most comfortable to them. If a household does not fill out the Census at all, it is possible that, after June 1st, a Census taker will come to the home to help a household respond in person; this interaction might cause further undue stress on your child. 

  • Leave it blank. While not ideal, you can leave the sex question blank on the Census form, which will likely not trigger a follow-up visit from a Census staff member. However, if the sex question is left blank or has multiple responses, the Census Bureau will try to ‘guess’ the answer through using a mathematical formula. To some, this outcome might feel even less empowering than choosing an answer to the question, even if the answer chosen does not align with their gender while for others, it might feel like a relief. Again, as a parent, you and your child know best which answer--or if answering at all--will feel most right, and least painful.  

It’s important to know, or be reminded, that Census data is confidential, and will not be shared with immigration enforcement, police, landlords, or any other individual. Census data can only be shared outside the Census Bureau 70 years after the Census was completed. However, PFLAG National completely understands why there is fear that Census data may be shared with individuals outside the Census Bureau. To this end, we have joined with a network of attorneys, advocates, and activists in creating a confidentiality pledge and will fight any data breaches that may arise. PFLAG, as always, is committed to keeping you and your loved ones safe. 

If we can be of any support, please do not hesitate to reach out to us, via email at [email protected], or by phone at (202) 467-8180; PFLAG National staff is teleworking due to the pandemic, but we are open for business Monday-Friday, 9am-5:30pm ET as always.

Ready to get started? Visit 2020census.gov!
Blog